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Covid-19: Labour scientists ‘will hold government to account’

Image: UK Parliament [CC BY-NC 2.0], via Flickr

Promise comes as Royal Society and Wellcome Trust praise tougher new measures to tackle disease

Labour scientists have vowed to hold the UK government to account over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement published on 16 March, the Scientists for Labour group said it was “not yet clear whether the government’s approach to tackling Covid-19 is the optimal one”.

“Noting that the government is being advised by respected medical scientists, there are nonetheless questions to be answered,” the statement says. “Regardless of whether its response is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, the government must be held to account. This is the job of the opposition and what SfL intends to assist with in.”

SfL also invited comments and questions regarding the topic, which it would pass on to the current and future party leadership. The group said it would also welcome contributions from those with expertise and working in relevant fields, including public health, epidemiology, virology, immunology and psychology.

The statement was published as the government introduced more stringent measures to tackle the pandemic. Under the new rules, everyone should stop non-essential contact with others, stop all unnecessary travel and avoid places like pubs, clubs and theatres.

The Wellcome Trust described the new measures as “essential”.

“Now is the time for drastic action,” it said. “It will be challenging, but it will give us the best chance to save lives.”

The charity added: “Scientists worldwide continue to work at an unprecedented pace to deepen our understanding of Covid-19. The evidence we have is clear, only by taking extraordinary measures and by us all committing to limit social contact, stop mass gatherings, and stop non-essential travel can we reduce the spread of this disease and give health services the best opportunity to cope.”

Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the Royal Society, also described the new measures as “very welcome”.

“Compliance with the new guidelines, and those previously announced, is essential to slow the rate of infection so as not to overburden health services beyond capacity,” he said. “We anticipate that the government may bring additional restrictions soon, as needed, based on its well-established systems for gathering and analysing scientific information on this rapidly changing situation in the UK.”

Ramakrishnan also welcomed the government’s decision to publish evidence on the outbreak, including data, modelling and reasoning, behind their strategy.

“This will help maintain public trust in the government’s strategy and allow relevant experts in the broader scientific community to scrutinise the results and strategy and offer constructive feedback.”