Covid-19 decision-making ‘shrouded in secrecy’ – top scientist

Major decisions about coronavirus have been "shrouded with secrecy", a top scientist has said, as he called for more transparency over policies concerning the pandemic.

Sir Paul Nurse, the director of the Francis Crick Institute, said the Government should "treat the public as adults" in its communications over Covid-19.

The comments come after a major incident was declared in Greater Manchester over rising Covid-19 infections.

And Chancellor Rishi Sunak's meal-deal scheme aimed at encouraging people to go out more has begun.

Sir Paul told the BBC's Today programme: "I think we need greater openness in the decision-making. It sometimes seems somewhat shrouded in secrecy.

"And not only that, but better communication of what's happening. Treat the public as adults.

"I'll give one example. At the height of the infection I was at a select committee in April and a public health person I think it was – they may have been from the Department for Health and Social Care – was saying all the testing needed for the NHS was in place.

"Yet we showed at the Francis Crick, at that time, 45% of frontline healthcare were infected and they were not being tested because capacity was inadequate.

"Now, that isn't a way to earn trust from the public. We need openness, transparency, scrutiny, and a leadership of people taking responsibility for the decision-making, and we need it now."

Meanwhile Sir Richard Leese, leader of Manchester City Council, urged residents to stay calm after public service chiefs decided to increase their readiness as they grapple with the escalating coronavirus transmission rates in the region.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

"People should not be alarmed that a major incident has been declared," Sir Richard said.

The decision to declare a major incident was taken by the Strategic Coordination Group on the weekend after they met to discuss the increased lockdown restrictions announced last week across parts of the North West.

The new measures forbid people from different households from meeting each other inside their homes or in gardens, while also banning separate households from mixing in pubs, restaurants and other hospitality venues.

It comes as Mr Sunak heralded the start of the Treasury's Eat Out to Help Out scheme – an offer of half-price meals during August in order to entice people out of their stay-at-home lockdown habits and into restaurants and pubs again after the hospitality sector was badly hit by the pandemic.

Coronavirus Chancellor
Chancellor Rishi Sunak places an 'Eat Out to Help Out' sticker in the window of No 11 Downing Street (Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire)

The incentive will reduce bills by 50% for all eat-in meals ordered between Monday and Wednesday this month at 72,000 participating establishments, including chains such as McDonald's, Nando's and Prezzo.

The discount per person will be capped at £10 and does not apply to alcohol.

Monday will also mark the first working day of the week from which the Prime Minister's new guidance applies, advising employees to return to their place of work where it has been made Covid secure and their employer agrees it is necessary.

According to reports, however, the regular outings being espoused by the Treasury and Downing Street could be curtailed in a matter of months under so-called "nuclear deterrent" plans under consideration by the Government to avoid a second national lockdown.

The Daily Telegraph says Boris Johnson is expected to order doctors to offer tailored advice this autumn to anyone over 50 who is obese, overweight or in ill health, warning them they are at increased risk from Covid and advising them to stay at home during the winter in the most serious cases.

Using a grading system, those less at risk could be told to reduce social contact, shop during hours designated for those shielding, or avoid public transport, the paper said.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick, asked about whether an extended shielding scheme was in the works, told Times Radio: "This is just speculation.

"That's not something that is being actively considered."

In related news, two tests which can detect coronavirus and flu – and promise results in 90 minutes – are to be rolled out in hospitals, care homes and laboratories in a development which could ease the pressure on the NHS during the coming winter.

The swab and DNA tests will enable clinicians and NHS Test and Trace to differentiate between Covid-19, which requires sufferers to undergo specific self-isolation, and other seasonal illnesses, the Department of Health said.

Almost half a million new LamPORE swab tests will be available from next week across adult care settings and laboratories.

In Wales, lockdown rules have been eased further this week, with up to 30 people now able to meet outside while maintaining social distancing, while pubs and restaurants in the country will also be able to open indoors.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

Children under 11 no longer need to keep two metres from each other or adults, following scientific evidence that the risk of transmission is lower among that age group.

Those in Wales will also be able to hit the lanes again, unlike their neighbours in England, after bowling alleys were given the green light to reopen, along with auction houses and bingo halls.

Licensed wedding venues will be able to reopen to provide wedding ceremonies – though indoor receptions are still banned.

Meanwhile the Government announced it had struck a deal to boost the UK's vaccine manufacturing capabilities amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Under the 18-month agreement, global pharmaceutical and biotechnology company Wockhardt will carry out the "fill and finish" stage of the manufacturing process, involving dispensing the manufactured vaccine substance into vials ready for it to be distributed, BEIS said.