Top UK government scientist quits after breaking lockdown rules

Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson, whose project sparked UK lockdown, resigns government role after admitting ‘error of judgement’ over lover’s home visits

May 6, 2020

The scientist whose advice led Boris Johnson to put Britain in lockdown to combat the coronavirus has resigned from his government advisory role after he broke social distancing rules to meet his lover.

Neil Ferguson, an Imperial College London epidemiologist, quit his position on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) last night after The Daily Telegraph revealed that he had been visited after 23 March on at least two occasions by a woman with whom he was in a relationship.

Admitting an “error of judgement”, Professor Ferguson said he had “acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms”.

“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic,” said Professor Ferguson, who has repeatedly advised the public to follow the government’s guidance on social distancing.

“The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us,” he added.

According to the Telegraph, the first of Professor Ferguson’s meetings with the woman came a week after the health secretary, Matt Hancock, used a Downing Street press briefing to clarify guidance that stated that couples not living together should stay apart during the lockdown.

Police have so far issued more than 9,000 fines to people breaking social distancing rules as the country enters its seventh week of lockdown.

Professor Ferguson, who also sat on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, leads the research team whose findings prompted governments on both sides of the Atlantic to impose strict lockdown rules.

Without social distancing rules, some 500,000 people in the UK were likely to die, his influential report on 16 March advised.

The findings of that paper, which has not been peer-reviewed, have faced growing scrutiny in recent weeks after countries that did not impose lockdown measures registered far fewer deaths than predicted by Imperial’s modelling.

Sweden’s latest death toll remains below 3,000 despite few lockdown measures, although Imperial’s modelling would suggest that the country would face at least 40,000 deaths by 1 May and 100,000 by 1 June, according to a team at Uppsala University.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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