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Government advisers have been probed on the data used to argue the case for a new national coronavirus lockdown in England. Chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty were challenged about the evidence behind the lockdown when they appeared before MPs on Tuesday – particularly the use of modelling scenarios which suggested there could be as many as 4,000 deaths a day. Conservative MP Mel Stride attempted to defend the advisers as he spoke to TalkRADIO host Julia Hartley-Brewer.
But the radio host was having none of it. She said: “It’s been 100 percent mathematically proven to be a lie.”
The Tory MP, Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee hit back: “Julia, you are clearly a deeply strong epidemiologist.”
But Ms Hartley-Brewer blasted: “No, no, no! You don’t have to have more than GCSE maths to be able to tell that those figures were wrong.
“Even Chris Whitty has accepted they were wrong. The Prime Minister, Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance lied to the nation on Saturday night.”
As Mr Stride urged “Let’s agree that there is some of the data that is perhaps less robust than originally presumed”, the radio host hit back again: “No! We’re not going to agree on that. We’re going to agree that that was wrong!”
Labour MP Graham Stringer suggested to Sir Patrick that he had “frightened a lot of people around the country”.
Sir Patrick told the Science and Technology Committee: “I think I positioned that – and if that didn’t come across then I regret that – but I positioned that as a scenario from a couple of weeks ago, based on an assumption to try and get a new reasonable worst-case scenario.”
The experts stressed the importance of six-week projections, rather than the longer-term scenarios.
Sir Patrick said the six-week forward projection suggested the number of people in hospital would pass the first wave “towards the end of November”.
And the number of deaths would equal the first wave “somewhere in mid-December”.
But that projection was based on nothing changing, so did not take into account the expected impact of the lockdown due to come into force in England on Thursday.
Prof Whitty said that reaching the same levels seen during the peak in April is an “entirely realistic situation”.
He added: “I think there has been some rather overblown rhetoric on this.
“People can take different projections if they wish.
“But getting to the stage we got to in April – and if we do nothing, carrying on up from there – is entirely realistic.”
Sir Patrick apologised if there was confusion about the different scenarios and projections used at the press conference.
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He told MPs: “If this is confusing then I apologise for that, but the model projections of the six weeks were the things that I was clear that ‘that’s what you need to concentrate on’, those are the things that you can have more reliability on in terms of the numbers.
“The others were scenarios for reasonable, worst-case planning, making an assumption around what the R would be and making an assumption the R may increase over the winter.”
Sir Patrick accepted longer-term modelling, beyond around six weeks, can see some “uncertainty” creep in.
The pair were asked by Tory MP Aaron Bell whether the “avalanche of data” presented on Saturday was “an appropriate way” to make their case to the nation.
Sir Patrick told the committee: “I would always like to get things simpler than they were and clearer than they were.
“That would always be an aim and clearly some of those slides were quite complicated, and it is a very complicated thing.”
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