Ross Clark Ross Clark

The Covid Inquiry is finally hearing some enlightening evidence

Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and adviser to the Scottish government during Covid (Credit: Covid Inquiry)

The Scottish leg of the Covid-19 inquiry has, like the hearings in London, become bogged down in matters such as the deletion of WhatsApp messages on ministerial phones. But, with a slightly less attention-seeking counsel for the inquiry, it also seems to be getting to some of the nuts and bolts which should have been discussed in London. A few of the most revealing pieces of evidence so far have been presented by Mark Woolhouse, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and adviser to the Scottish government during the pandemic. Here are some of the highlights of his oral and written evidence.

Woolhouse was deeply critical of Holyrood’s declaration ‘there is no such thing as a level of acceptable’ loss. This, he said, was tantamount to announcing a ‘Zero Covid’ strategy ‘but it was never, in my view, a rational basis for making health policy, not least because it was bound to fail’.     It would have required, he said, more than a year’s worth of hugely damaging restrictions which neither Scotland nor any other country in the world followed in practice.

Woolhouse was also critical of some of the media coverage, especially BBC television news

Too much emphasis, he said, was put on reducing the number of people’s contacts rather than reducing the risk from contacts. ‘Halving the number of contacts and making every contact only half as risky are similarly effective in suppressing transmission,’ he said. Concentrating on the latter could have allowed society to open up sooner. The Scottish Government Covid Advisory Group (SGCAG), he reveals, was never asked to advice on how to keep the country out of lockdown.

Bans on outdoor activities, he suggests, were pointless because ‘it was clear from the first half of 2020 that SARS-CoV-2 transmits very poorly, if at all, in outdoor settings. This was discussed on more than one occasion at SGCAG but not, as far as I can tell, ever communicated as advice to minsters.’ If

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