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Leading Tory lockdown-sceptic: Serious questions over model used for PM road map


By PA News

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There are “serious questions” about the modelling the Government is using to support its cautious lockdown-easing timetable, according to a senior lockdown-sceptic Tory.

Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) made up of Conservative MPs, has complained about “dodgy data” being used to inform the Prime Minister’s thinking on how fast coronavirus restrictions can be lifted.

Boris Johnson announced on Monday plans to fully lift lockdown restrictions by June 21 at the earliest, despite the CRG calling for all measures to be abolished once the most vulnerable have been vaccinated in April.

In a six-part thread posted on Twitter, the former chief whip said the modelling from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group (SPI-M-O) had been more cautious than the reality when it came to predicting the impact the vaccine would have on reducing hospital admissions, deaths and cutting transmission of the virus.

Mr Harper said the modelling had predicted Covid-19 vaccines would reduce the risk of infection by 48% and 60% with the first and second doses respectively but Public Health England data suggested it was more like 57%-70% after one dose and 85% after two.

Similarly, he said Public Health Scotland evidence showed that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech jab offered 85% protection against being admitted to hospital or dying from coronavirus, while the Oxford/AstraZeneca afforded 94% protection – well above SPI-M-O’s 70% reduction assumption.

(PA Graphics)
(PA Graphics)

He tweeted: “Key decisions determining the pace of the Government’s road map were based on SPI-M-O modelling. Some serious questions arise from the assumptions on which the modelling is based.

“There is a clear and concerning pattern of assumptions not reflecting the (much more positive) reality.

“At the very least, this raises some serious questions about the extent to which these models should be relied on.”

Mr Harper, speaking earlier on Tuesday, said the decision to delay reopening society fully until June was based on “dodgy” information and could cost jobs.

According to the Prime Minister’s plan to unlock, non-essential shops, hairdressers and outdoor hospitality venues must wait until at least April 12 before they can reopen.

It will be May 17 at the earliest before pubs and other entertainment venues are allowed to permit two households or groups of up to six people to mix indoors, a move criticised by the hospitality sector.

Mr Johnson said on Tuesday he is “very optimistic” that he will be able to fully remove all of England’s coronavirus restrictions on June 21 but warned “nothing can be guaranteed”.

Mr Harper told LBC: “The Government seems to have looked at some models with dodgy assumptions and have effectively delayed opening the country by two months.

“We have got a delay of two months to all restrictions going, which is going to have some real consequences for real people’s jobs and livelihoods and I think it has been driven by some dodgy modelling.”


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