'Other agendas' may be behind Govt's pandemic response, Nervtag member tells LBC

10 January 2021, 12:42

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

A leading scientist today told LBC that "other agendas" could be behind the government not following the scientific advice for airport screening.

Speaking on LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, Professor Peter Openshaw was asked whether ministers were still following the science behind screening people for coronavirus at airports.

The government has previously been criticised for being "too slow" in introducing tests for international arrivals.

However, the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), a committee advising the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), had previously said such a measure was "inefficient" unless it is done "rigorously".

In a meeting nearly a year ago, it agreed that "providing information to travellers would be more effective".

But earlier this week, the government chose to introduce tests for those arriving from overseas due to the emergence of the new South African Covid variant - a move seemingly at odds with Nervtag's advice.

Read more: Mass testing for asymptomatic people to be rolled out

Read more: NHS facing 'most dangerous situation in memory', Prof Whitty warns

Professor Peter Openshaw gave LBC his take on the government not following the science
Professor Peter Openshaw gave LBC his take on the government not following the science. Picture: LBC

LBC's Tom Swarbrick put it to Prof Openshaw, a Nervtag member, that the government was no longer following the science around airport screening.

"The government has been steering a course between the science and what they think they need to do in order to allow industries to continue to function and that's a very hard course to follow," the professor said.

Tom then asked why ministers are still going ahead with the measure if scientists have said it will not be sufficient in stopping the spread of Covid-19.

"I think there may be other agendas that need to be followed," Prof Openshaw replied, to which the LBC presenter asked, "like what?"

"Not wishing to restrict travel, not wishing to restrict people's freedom," he said, adding, "these are things that the politicians are very concerned about."

Read more: UK official coronavirus death toll passes 80,000

Watch: London patients queue for vaccine in near-freezing temperatures

But Tom pointed out that the latest measures actually increase restrictions.

He then expressed confusion over why the government had changed course after previously heeding Nervtag's advice, which had been in place since last year.

He put it to the professor that ministers were simply using "common sense" in introducing restrictions so as to not seed the virus in the UK as the country saw at the start of the pandemic.

Prof Openshaw acknowledged the point, adding: "It isn't necessarily the case that those who make decisions politically are always going to observe the advice they're getting from the scientific groups."

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