‘Unproductive’ to blame scientists for Government decisions, says Buckland

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has labelled it “unproductive” to blame scientists for decisions taken by the Government during the coronavirus crisis.

His comments came after Cabinet colleague Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, tried to deflect criticism about key decisions, such as ending community testing, on to the scientists advising ministers on the UK response.

Ms Coffey, speaking to Sky News on Tuesday, said: “If the science was wrong, advice at the time was wrong, I’m not surprised if people then think we made a wrong decision.”

Therese Coffey
Therese Coffey (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Downing Street distanced itself from her comments shortly afterwards and Mr Buckland said there was little point in “blaming people” when the Covid-19 pandemic was an “evolving picture”.

Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we should all be… working together. I think pointing fingers and blaming people is extremely unproductive.

“I think it is important we acknowledge this is an evolving picture.”

He said understanding about the virus and its behaviour was changing regularly and cited how the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) had only this week recommended that loss of taste or smell be added to the coronavirus symptoms list.

“What we knew about the virus in February or March is a world away from what we know about it now,” Mr Buckland added.

HEALTH Coronavirus
(PA Graphics)

“And, of course, in June and July we will know even more about its characteristics and what it does.

“We have revised the symptoms list, for example, this week. We’re continuing to evolve and develop our policy to represent that change.

“It would be very difficult now to judge what happened in March, bearing in mind the change in our knowledge.”

Downing Street, in a briefing with reporters following Ms Coffey’s comments, accepted that ministers bear responsibility for decisions in the coronavirus response.

“The Prime Minister is hugely grateful for the hard work and expertise of the UK’s world-leading scientists, we’ve been guided by their advice throughout and we continue to do so,” the PM’s official spokesman said.

“Scientists provide advice to the Government, ministers ultimately decide.”

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