The nation was behind many others in Europe in putting in place restrictive social distancing measures, with the British government frequently saying it was “guided by the science.” With the country approaching 20,000 deaths, the Times correspondents Mark Landler and Stephen Castle took a look at the secretive scientific group advising the government.
As the British government comes under mounting criticism for its response to the coronavirus — one that has left Britain vying with Italy and Spain as the worst hit countries in Europe — Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his aides have defended themselves by saying they are “guided by the science.”
The trouble is, nobody knows what the science is.
The government’s influential Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies — known by its soothing acronym, SAGE — operates as a virtual black box. Its list of members is secret, its meetings are closed, its recommendations are private and the minutes of its deliberations are published much later, if at all.
Yet officials invoke SAGE’s name endlessly without ever explaining how it comes up with its advice — or even who these scientists are.
That lack of transparency has become a point of contention, as officials struggle to explain why they waited until late March to shift from a laissez-faire approach to the virus to the stricter measures adopted by other European countries. Critics say the delay may have worsened a death toll now surging past 20,000, and they fault the government for leaving people in the dark about why it first chose this riskier path.