Channel 4 Dispatches investigation reveals how the Government allowed itself to be blinded by science

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and on first impressions, a new Dispatches documentary, Coronavirus: Did the Government Get it Wrong? (Channel 4, Weds, 9pm) was a prime example of being wise after the event.

By Phil Cunnington
Friday, 5th June 2020, 4:37 pm
Updated Friday, 5th June 2020, 4:38 pm

However, as the experts, scientists and ex-MPs lined up to criticise the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, you couldn’t help thinking Boris Johnson and his cabinet have questions to answer.

This carefully-researched and impeccably-sourced programme had testimony from key scientists and statisticians who had been advising the Government since the turn the of the year, when the seriousness of the situation was becoming clear.

And yet at each stage, with advice flowing through from acronyms like SAGE and COBRA, the Government – and Johnson in particular – had no clue how to respond.

Boris Johnson lays out the Governments advice for the day (No.10/Getty Images)

As advisers were telling the Government of the threat posed by international travel, the Prime Minister was saying Britain could be Superman, ready to ‘don the cape of global free trade’.

Then, when advice was to wash your hands, he was telling the media he was shaking everyone’s hand, a claim one scientist said was “bonkers”.

The most controversial claim – that Johnson had told the Italian president he was considering letting the virus run its course to encourage herd immunity – was actually the least convincing, coming third-hand from an Italian diplomat.

The Government claims it has been guided by science, but they have communicated it so badly that any trust we had in them has been with, well, the virus of doubt.

As Dispatches showed, until we discover who knew what and when, we may never know the rationale behind ‘stay alert’, but more programmes like this can only help.

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