Coronavirus: Boris Johnson told to immediately publish government’s scientific advice amid concerns over secrecy

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Boris Johnson must immediately publish scientific advice underpinning key decisions in combatting coronavirus, an influential committee of MPs has said.

Conservative MP William Wragg, who chairs the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, wrote to the prime minister to call for greater transparency amid criticism over the secrecy shrouding the expert advice the government receives.

Mr Wragg also called for the law to be changed to allow deaths to be recorded electronically within 24 hours to improve understanding of coronavirus-related fatalities.

Ministers have insisted they are “following the science” at every stage of the pandemic, taking advice from a panel of experts known as the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) on issues such as school closures, use of face masks and overseas travel.

Documents considered by Sage are periodically published but often with a long delay, while the scientific papers which form the basis of advice are not often made public.

Only 25 documents out of more than 110 have been published, according to the government’s own list.

After taking evidence from national statistician Professor Sir Ian Diamond, Mr Wragg said parliament needed to see the data to scrutinise government decisions.

“The national statistician, who attends Sage, told us that he believes government should publish the papers discussed by Sage,” Mr Wragg said in his letter to the prime minister.

“I am writing to ask you to start publishing those papers immediately.

“If for any reasons you are unable to publish a paper, I would like you to write outlining what the paper contains and why it cannot be published.”

A tranche of Sage papers from April were published earlier this month, which included advice on school closures, antibody testing and whether to bring in a lockdown in London. Another batch of documents is expected to be made public early next week.

The government published the Sage membership list earlier this month – which had previously been kept under wraps – after coming under criticism when it emerged that the prime minister’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings had attended meetings.

Sir David King, a former government chief scientific adviser, assembled a separate group of independent experts to look at how to ease the lockdown “in response to concerns over the lack of transparency” from Sage.

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