Transparency row over body driving UK’s Covid lockdowns

Earlier this year, the Government was forced to publish the full membership of the Sage scientific committee and regular details of its advice to ministers after a row over transparency. The chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, later agreed it had been “an error” not to be more open with the public.

The JBC was formed to handle the surveillance of Covid-19 at a local level and consolidate the advice given to ministers. 

It reports to Baroness Dido Harding, the chief of NHS Test and Trace, and holds responsibility for setting the national alert level as well as recommending action to contain outbreaks, including the closure of workplaces, pubs and restaurants. 

Government sources insisted the body was largely staffed by civil servants, meaning it was “not appropriate” to release their identities.

John Drury, a professor of social psychology at the University of Sussex and a Sage sub-committee member, said the secrecy around the membership and decision making of the JBC was “baffling”.

“I know academics and scientists are involved, much like Sage, and yet we don’t know who they are or how they are coming up with their advice. It’s not acceptable,” Prof Drury said.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “The Joint Biosecurity Centre supports decision-making. It does not make the decisions on specific measures or restrictions. We have always sought to be as clear and transparent as possible, publishing a wide range of data and evidence about how the virus is spreading across the UK.”

How concerns about secrecy surrounding JBC have grown 

At the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in April, Boris Johnson pledged “maximum possible transparency” over the evidence behind Britain’s lockdown.

Six months later, with the country facing a second wave of Covid-19, senior MPs and scientists believe that promise may have been broken.

Concerns have been raised over the secrecy surrounding the Joint Biosecurity Centre, whose advice to ministers is understood to have guided recent decisions on where to enforce controversial local lockdowns.

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