The British government has denied the media reports which claimed two of the most influential political advisors of Prime Minister Boris Johnson are on a key scientific committee advising on COVID-19 response. The Guardian had published the list of members sitting on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) which aims to provide scientific and technical advice to the government during emergencies.
According to the report, Dominic Cummings, chief adviser to the prime minister, and Ben Warner, Downing Street adviser on data science, are the members of the committee which sparked widespread outrage and raised questions regarding the independence of the committee. Both Cummings and Warner are known for their leading role in the Vote Leave campaign and neither of them has a scientific background.
Speaking to CNN, the government spokesperson dismissed the reports saying Cummings and Warner are not members of SAGE. However, he admitted that the duo attended “some” SAGE meetings and listened to some virtual meetings just to better understand the scientific debates related to the health emergency.
UK’s Conservative government has been facing criticism for the handling of the coronavirus outbreak after getting a landslide victory on Brexit poll plank. Britain has already reported over 143,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus with death toll approaching 20,000, overwhelming the medical facilities under National Health Service.
The members’ list of SAGE has been kept secret from the public but the website says that the membership of SAGE depends on the “nature of the emergency” but it “typically includes” leading experts from within government and leading specialists from the fields of academia and industry.
“SAGE is responsible for ensuring that timely and coordinated scientific advice is made available to decision-makers to support UK cross-government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR),” says the website.
Calls for transparency in the working of SAGE has gained momentum after the alleged list of members was leaked. Taking to Twitter, Conservative leader David Davis said that transparency matters enormously in handling the COVID-19 crisis, both for public confidence and for quality of public decision making.
We should publish the membership of SAGE: remove any non-scientist members: publish their advice in full: and publish dissenting opinions with the advice.— David Davis (@DavidDavisMP) April 25, 2020