Fraser Nelson

Why we’re publishing SAGE’s ‘worst-case scenario’

Why we’re publishing SAGE's ‘worst-case scenario’
Chris Whitty and Patrick Vallance (photo: Getty)
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In the UK’s pandemic response system, an independent committee of scientists – SAGE –draws up a ‘Reasonable Worst-Case’ planning scenario. This isn’t a prediction, but what it thinks could reasonably happen. Importantly, government then plans along these lines. But it has no obligation to tell the Cabinet, let alone the rest of the country, what is going on. As a result, government policy can be decided along lines that mystify senior government members, let alone those affected. Secrecy helps keep SAGE advice candid and allows for quick decision-making. But now that we’re settling down for what this week’s Spectator calls ‘the long winter’ it’s harder to justify the secrecy. So we’re publishing the document which points to 85,000 deaths until the end of March, with restrictions lasting until then.

If government plans are being made along these assumptions, there’s a public interest case in publishing. Lack of transparency means lack of scrutiny: there’s a chance that big errors can creep in. This secrecy also undermines trust in government. In another era, there’s an argument that publishing the RWC document would be alarmist – that case was certainly made during Swine Flu. But now, the stronger argument is that the government should level with the public. If the Prime Minister thinks that the second wave could be much bigger than the first – as we learned from Monday’s Daily Telegraph – then people deserve to be told why.

We’re in an absurd situation now where the people of Manchester and Liverpool are told that their hospitals are at breaking point. Such stories, if untrue, risk lives: people who need care may not seek it, leading to the pile-up of at-home deaths we’re seeing now. But when the Manchester Evening News contacted local hospitals to ask for the figures – which are compiled on a daily basis and available on an internal NHS Covid dashboard – they were sent away and told to submit a Freedom of Information request that gets a response in 28 days. SAGE will publish selected documents – the minutes of its meetings for example – but not the all-important RWC scenario. It’s hard to see why not.

That’s why we’re publishing the scenario in full – with some health warnings. This was drafted on July 30, so a modified version of it will be in use. But given that actual hospitalisations and deaths have followed its trajectory – just a lot earlier than Sage imagined back in the summer – it’s likely that the RWC being used right now will be very similar to the one The Spectator is publishing today.

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To read the full ‘reasonable worst-case’ Sage document go to:

Written byFraser Nelson

Fraser Nelson is editor of The Spectator and columnist for the Daily Telegraph.

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