‘End of Covid’ SAGE stands down as UK enters new phase of pandemic

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The scientific advisory group, chaired by Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty, “stands ready” to reconvene if the virus rebounds. Although the group “stands ready if required”, it will no longer meet regularly – the first time it has halted its ongoing response since January 2020.

The decision was taken after the Government acknowledged that Britain had entered a new phase of its response and followed the lifting of all remaining legal restrictions in England under Downing Street’s Living With Covid plan.

Prof Carl Heneghan, the director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at the University of Oxford, told The Telegraph: “The standing down of SAGE signifies the end of the pandemic in the UK.

“This is a remarkable turnabout of events given that just before Christmas, SAGE advisers were warning infections could hit two million per day and were pushing for further restrictions.

“The Government will need to review whether SAGE is fit for purpose when it comes to pandemics, particularly given its lack of clinical input and its overreliance on modelling – which we now know is no more than ‘guesswork’ – and its tendency to fixate on a particular set of assumptions.”

SAGE was first established in 2009 to tackle the swine flu pandemic and has been activated 10 times since then.

However, it has faced criticism over the past year for over-reliance on modelling, which has been repeatedly shown to be wrong.

SAGE meetings have a shifting membership drawn from a panel of about 90 scientists and medical experts.

Dozens more sit on sub-groups, including controversial epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, who was kept on as an adviser despite being forced to apologise for breaking lockdown rules during an affair with a married woman.

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It is unclear how often the SAGE subcommittees will meet.

In mid-December, SAGE urged the government to go further than “Plan B” restrictions and reintroduce “more stringent measures” to cope with the omicron wave, after models warned hospitalisations could peak between 3,000 and 10,000 a day and deaths at between 600 and 6,000 a day.

The advisers suggested reintroducing measures “equivalent to those in place after step two or step one of the roadmap in England”, which would have placed Britain back in lockdown conditions.

Responding to the news that Sage will no longer meet regularly, Dr Tom Jefferson, of the University of Oxford told the publication: “I think this is really good news because it’s been an absolute disaster for our society. They should have gone a long time ago.

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“The work of this group was all about guesswork, and if you’re going to be ruled by guesswork then we’re all doomed.

“The modellers have a track record of getting things wrong.”

Prof John Edmunds, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and also a member of SPi-M, told the publication: “It is, in my opinion, entirely appropriate that SAGE stands down at this moment.

“With very high levels of immunity in the population – largely as a result of the hugely successful vaccination programme – and new and improved treatments and therapeutics coming on stream, we are now in a completely different situation to the one that we were in when SAGE first started to meet about Covid.

“Although there is still much to learn and continuing uncertainty about the future incidence of disease, the need to assess the evidence and summarise it for policy-makers is now less urgent. Let’s hope that it stays that way.”



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