Top Sage expert Jeremy Farrar quits amid ‘concerning’ Covid-19 rates

Personal statement warns Covid-19 crisis ‘is a long way from over’

Sam Hancock,Alastair Jamieson
Wednesday 03 November 2021 01:55

Related video: Health secretary Sajid Javid says Christmas is ‘safe’ from Covid

Sir Jeremy Farrar has revealed he quit the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) last month, warning of “concerning high levels of transmission” in Britain and vowing to focus on his role as a clinical scientist.

The director of the Wellcome Trust was a leading member of the government’s Covid-19 advisory body during the pandemic.

He was reportedly pushing for ministers to enforce a so-called “vaccine plus” strategy that includes measures such as mask wearing, ventilation and continued testing, according to Sky News.

However, the government has so far declined to enforce stricter measures – which it refers to as plan B – and is sticking with its current, more relaxed guidance.

In a statement released on Tuesday night, Sir Jeremy appeared to issue a coded criticism of the government’s stance, warning that “the Covid-19 crisis is a long way from over”.

He said he was confident he had “stepped down as a Sage participant knowing ministers had been provided with most of the key science advice needed over the winter months”.

“At the end of October 2021, after careful consideration, I stepped down [from Sage],” the statement read.

“My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic, ensuring the world is better prepared for inevitable future infectious disease threats, and making the case so the full potential of science is realised to inform and drive change against all the urgent health threats we face globally.”

Sir Jeremy added that throughout the pandemic, Sage has provided “vital evidence and independent, expert, transparent advice to support the UK response, often under huge pressure”.

He also said it had been “an honour to have joined the hundreds of scientists who have contributed”, before thanking “[chief scientific adviser to the government] Patrick Vallance and [chief medical officer for England] Chris Whitty for their outstanding leadership”.

“I remain, as always, available where I may offer help as a clinical scientist or as director of Wellcome,” he concluded.

The Government Office for Science said in a statement: “We can confirm that Sir Jeremy has stood down from the Covid Sage activation, and thank him for his contribution from the very start of the activation. Sage continues to provide government with independent expert scientific and technical advice.”

In an earlier message on his personal Twitter, Sir Jeremy said he was taking “a few days break, time away from work, off social media etc”.

“Holidays & time off [are] so important for everyone,” he added.

In July, he revealed he had “seriously considered resigning” from Sage almost a year before, after Boris Johnson’s government chose not to introduce a lockdown in September 2020.

It was this decision that ultimately led to the cancelling of Christmas, when the prime minister advised the British public to refrain from seeing loves ones and staying overnight at their family homes, as normal, over the festive period.

Senior ministers, including health secretary Sajid Javid and business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, have gone on record in recent weeks as saying the government will stand by its commitment to refrain from enforcing lockdown measures over Christmas this year.

This is despite the number of lab-confirmed Covid infections and deaths in the UK rising substantially in the last few weeks. Though a peak seen around two weeks ago, when figures returned to levels last seen in March 2020, has since levelled off.

On Tuesday, the latest government data showed there had been a further 33,865 Covid cases in the UK within the last 24-hour period.

There were also an additional 293 deaths – but this number includes data from NHS England which was not provided in time for Monday’s figures, officials noted.

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