Boris Johnson’s failure to start Covid inquiry this year is a disgrace, says Sage adviser

Boris Johnson’s failure to start a public inquiry into Covid this year is a disgrace that is all about “political manoeuvring” to protect his reputation, according to a leading scientific adviser to the government.

The comments from Sir Jeremy Farrar came in the third extract from his book Spike – The Virus vs The People: The Inside Story, where he claims that Johnson’s pledge to wait until 2022 to start the inquiry into what happened with the management of the pandemic is for “no reason other than political manoeuvring”.

Farrar, an expert on infectious diseases and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that the UK needed to “learn the lessons” to “honour the dead”.

He warned that it was already clear the kind of problems that needed to be addressed if any future pandemic was going to have a less devastating impact than Covid.

“We need hard-nosed independent assessments of political and structural capability, which I found was lacking in the UK in the early part of this crisis (and throughout, among some ministers),” he writes in the extract, released in the Times.

Farrar’s latest comments come after he revealed that he nearly stepped down as a member of Sage over Johnson’s decision not to lock down the UK last autumn.

“By not going into a lockdown in September, the UK epidemic was left to continue its upward trajectory,” he wrote. “The decision not to act fostered the conditions for the arrival and then the domination of new variants, which had such a dramatic impact. Transmission was already getting away from us. It was a catastrophe playing out in slow motion.

“That was the darkest moment of the pandemic. I began to question the point of giving advice to a body that chose not to use it," hy het gesê.

Farrar, who runs the Wellcome Trust, one of the world’s largest philanthropic organisations, said not trying to learn the lessons of Covid early was a “disgrace” and that 2022 was too long to wait. “There is absolutely no reason [for the delay], other than political manoeuvring," hy het gesê.

Farrar was critical of a “lack of strategic thinking” from Boris Johnson at the start of the pandemic, describing what ensued as “organisational mayhem”.

“He [Johnson] sat at one end of a table waving his arms around as he put in offers to buy millions of tests of uncertain provenance, brushing off the concerns of others in the room who felt, rightly, that test kits needed a degree of quality control,” he writes.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We want to learn lessons quickly and the inquiry will report within a reasonable timescale but the end of lockdown is not the end of the pandemic. Spring 2022, after the pressures we can expect on the NHS over winter, is, therefore, the right time for the inquiry to begin.”

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