Today
Tue 25 January 2022

Professor Susan Michie, from the Government’s SAGE advisory committee, tells Adam Bienkov that the Government’s lax response to the new COVID variant could cost thousands of lives

The UK Government is making the ‘biggest mistake you can make in a pandemic’ by delaying tough measures to tackle the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, one of the Government’s own scientific advisers has told Byline Times.

The Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Monday resisted calls to bring in tough new measures to deal with the arrival of the new faster-spreading variant in the UK.

Javid instead announced limited new measures, including legislation to compel mask-wearing, but only in shops and on public transport.

Justifying the decision, Javid said the Government had decided to delay tougher measures, such as telling people to work from home, until more scientific evidence emerged about the new variant.

“Our strategy is to buy ourselves time… while we learn more about its potential threat,” Javid told the House of Commons.

However, one of the Government’s scientific advisers has told Byline Times that the decision to delay additional measures could lead to thousands of extra deaths.

“What the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Doctor Mike Ryan has said is that this is exactly the biggest mistake you can make in a pandemic, which is to wait until there is certainty,” Professor Susan Michie said.

“If you wait until there is certainty, it’s too late.”

Michie, who sits on the UK Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, accused Johnson’s administration of making the same mistakes it made right at the start of the pandemic in 2020.

“They have been behind the curve on many occasions and behind what many other countries are doing. It’s nothing new but what I think is more stark is they’re not learning from our own experience. 

“They didn’t listen to the WHO on acting fast and hard, and now they’re not learning from this country’s own experience, which is that delaying measures has cost thousands of lives.”

Javid insisted on Monday that moving more quickly would be disproportionate. However, Michie believes there is nothing to be lost, and everything to gain from acting now.

“What does it matter if after two or three weeks we find days out this isn’t the big threat that we thought it might be?” she said.

“As it is we are losing up to a thousand people a week. A thousand people a week are dying. Would we say that’s fine if that was happening in any other area of our lives?”


Boris Johnson’s ‘Poor Leadership’ on the Pandemic

Michie said the Government’s “libertarian ideology” may be stopping it from taking the necessary steps to deal with the virus and criticised the prime minister’s own refusal to wear face masks in public.

“There’s been a consistent pattern of people being sensible and responding adaptively to threat so when it’s undermined, it’s because of poor leadership”, said Michie, who is a leading expert in Health Psychology.

“When there’s inconsistent, unclear, incoherent messaging, when people are saying one thing and doing another, this is what undermines people adhering and that’s poor leadership.”

“Trusted leadership comes out as a very significant factor in terms of the extent to which people engage in these protective practices.”

She also dismissed suggestions by some press commentators that the British public would now resist further tough measures to deal with the virus.

There’s this concept of behavioural fatigue that was first pushed [in the first wave of the pandemic]”, Michie said. “It’s not a scientific term. There’s no evidence for it. It appeared to be made up to justify delay.”

FEARLESS, INDEPENDENT JOURNALISM
& INCREDIBLE VALUE

Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and support quality, investigative reporting.

While some countries are more used to measures such as mask-wearing, Michie said all the evidence was that the public were supportive of new measures to tackle the virus.

Time and time again, if you look at polls, when people are asked would they support more measures to be brought in… the majority of people are in favour of wearing face masks to public places and social distancing in public places.

“So the British people are sensible, and they are often ahead of the Government.”

Michie said the Government should now immediately bring in new measures telling people to work home if possible, compel mask-wearing in all public indoor settings and roll out more testing on international travel.

She also called for much more investment in ventilation of hospitality, as well as greater financial support for people forced to isolate.


‘We’ve Acted Quickly but We’ve Acted Soft’

Michie believes these are all “obvious” measures for the Government to take now in order to prevent a potentially disastrous wave of new deaths caused by Omicron.

“If you look at other parts of society, other parts of health threats, smoking, traffic accidents, safety on work sites, considerable effort is put in to make these places safe in order to try and reduce avoidable deaths and illness.

“But somehow, the Government just isn’t doing obvious stuff that other countries are doing, and that the evidence shows that they should be doing.”

She added that now was the time to act “quickly and hard” to prevent a tragedy.

What the WHO and what Patrick Valance says is, you have to act quickly and hard,” Michie said.

“This time we’ve acted quickly, but we’ve acted soft. So we’ve got Plan B lite and what we need is Plan B plus.

“And if they don’t put in extra protective measures this coming week, then I fear that we’re going to need more restrictions, which I really do not want.”

OUR JOURNALISM RELIES ON YOU

Byline Times is funded by its subscribers. Receive our monthly print edition and help to support fearless, independent journalism.

Thank you for reading this article

New to Byline Times? Find out more about us


SUBSCRIBE TO THE PRINT EDITION

A new type of newspaper – independent, fearless, outside the system. Fund a better media.

Don’t miss a story…

Our leading investigations include Brexit, Empire & the culture war, Russian interference, Coronavirus, cronyism and far right radicalisation. We also introduce new voices of colour in Our Lives Matter.