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And more scientists coming up to criticise the government’s slow approach
too late’. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA
“Boris Johnson and his advisers have been accused of responding too slowly to the coronavirus outbreak by a former chief scientific adviser, who expressed shock that the Cheltenham festival and other big events were allowed to go ahead in mid-March.
Prof Sir David King said he was “really saddened by the predicament we are in” and that the UK “didn’t respond so much sooner once this epidemic broke out in China”.
King, who was adviser from 2000 to 2007, said it appeared that there was a plateau in new infections but that the failure to record deaths outside hospitals means “we really haven’t a clue where we are” and comparisons with other countries were “beginning to look really awful”.
“That, of course, is what has happened – and it seems that we were unprepared and we didn’t take action,” he said. Imagine, 16 March, having a horse race go on with a massive crowd at Cheltenham. We didn’t manage this until too late and every day’s delay has resulted in further deaths in the United Kingdom.”
King said austerity under the coalition government had led to cuts to the risk management programmes, which had made the UK unprepared for pandemics.
“For me, this is very upsetting because we had set this preparation process in place, as I say, back in 2006,” he said, arguing that this had cost lives.
King said the government needed to “massively step up measures” including mass testing, which the current chief scientific advisers and medical advisers had suggested until recent days was not practical.
“Until we get testing done on a very much wider scale, we’re not going to begin to manage this,” he said. “If we go around the world and see where there has been better behaviour, it isn’t only in the wealthy countries.