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Sage meeting minutes published following weeks of pressure

Image: Number 10 [BY-NC-ND 2.0], via Flickr

Details from Covid-19 expert meetings made public by government

The Government Office for Science has published the minutes from the first 34 Covid-19 meetings of its Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies.

Sage provides advice to the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (Cobra) meetings on science during emergencies, such as the current coronavirus pandemic, but it has been heavily criticised for its perceived secrecy.

Policy decisions such as the nationwide lockdown are believed to have been strongly influenced by Sage advice, with the government saying it has been led by science in responding to Covid-19. But several researchers have complained that whoever and whatever is shaping Sage advice has not been open to scrutiny.

“Science evolves and benefits from outside review and Covid-19 is a new disease where our knowledge has rapidly developed,” said chief medical officer Chris Whitty as minutes for the period from 22 January to 7 May were published.

“It is important that people understand the science relating to Covid-19 and the scientific advice that Sage have provided, so I am very pleased that the Sage minutes are being published.”

Alongside the minutes—containing the names of some but not all meeting participants—the Government Office for Science also published a number of additional pieces of evidence on 29 May, including papers from various groups that feed into Sage discussions.

“Openness and transparency around this disease is a social imperative, which is why it’s important we don’t wait to publish minutes and evidence,” said chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance (pictured).

The government said minutes for meetings after 7 May “still contain sensitive information, with policy advice still under live consideration” so those “will be published in the coming weeks”.

Normally, minutes for Sage meetings, along with the evidence used to inform Sage advice, is published at the end of any event or emergency.

“Given the exceptional nature of the Covid-19 pandemic,” today’s announcement said, “the government, Sage and its participants want to ensure there is as much available evidence and material as possible to the general public so there is full transparency on how science advice is being formulated.”