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What's in Johnson's WhatsApp messages?
It's not just about those who have died, it's about those who will die
There is considerable conjecture regarding what the WhatsApp messages the UK government is seeking to take the Covid Inquiry to judicial review over.
Much has been discussed regarding the start of the pandemic, however there are several areas that have missed discussion.
While there seems to be a lot of discussion regarding the response to the first wave with complaints
Covid Inquiry Questions
When the lockdown was first declared why did guidance change after a couple of hours from “only keyworkers should go to work” to “work from home where possible”?
Why did Russel Viner’s April 2020 systematic review of transmission in children continue to be used as evidence that schools didn’t play a significant role in transmission even after concerns were raised with the regulator by the statistician Sarah Rasmussen?
The University of East Anglia’s review of lockdown measures commissioned by PHE concluded that school closures were one of the most effective measures for cutting transmission, why was this study not given the same weight by policy makers as Viner’s review?
SAGE provided models for 9 different scenarios for the return of students on 1 June 2020, why did the DfE decide on a completely different plan to any of the scenarios modelled.
Why did the government tell the public that schools weren’t contributing significantly to transmission when SAGE estimated the impact of a full return of students would increase R by between 0.2 and 0.5?
FOI requests revealed that there were no DfE meetings to discuss the writing of the June 2020 and September 2020 guidance for education settings, who was responsible for producing this guidance that ignored most of SAGE'S recommendations?
Why did the government's summer 2020 back to school media campaign make misleading claims about social distancing in schools and use imagery with masks being worn when the DfE guidance accepted social distancing wouldn't be possible in many rooms and told schools that masks shouldn't be worn in schools?
How many meetings did the group UsForThem have with ministers? When did these occur and are minutes/notes available of what was discussed. UsForThem Scotland posted a picture of them meeting Johnson and UsForThem’s summer 2020 newsletter spoke of meetings with MPs and ministers.
Why were cases identified in schools not subject to the same test and trace contact tracing as the rest of the population? When transmission was acknowledged as being airborne why was it decided that someone couldn’t be a close contact if they were 2 metres away from a positive case regardless of time or lack of ventilation?
Many head teachers reported multiple cases in the same year groups only to be told they didn’t have an outbreak but lots of individual cases. What guidance were local directors of public health given to make these decisions? This led to an under reporting of outbreaks in official statistics.
Why did the government choose to not follow SAGEs advice to have an earlier circuit breaker in the autumn?
When a month long lockdown was introduced in November 2020, why was SAGEs recommendations to include schools ignored?
When masks were introduced on public transport and in shops, masks were still not recommended for classrooms leading to students being expected to wear masks on the bus but then to take them off at the school gates. Why were classrooms not considered to be crowded indoor areas? Why were masks recommended in communal areas and not classrooms, and what evidence was this decision based on? The WHO guidance to governments was to have masks in classrooms.
As schools returned in September the DfE published a Containment Framework of additional measures for schools to follow if cases were rising in their area. The Containment Framework was scrapped in November without being used. Why was the guidance discontinued and why was it never used even when schools were expected to stay fully open through the November lockdown or in December when cases of the more severe Alpha were growing exponentially?
In December once all private schools had already finished for the school holidays, councils like Greenwich who decided to close a week early due to the scale of infection were threatened with legal action by the DfE and were forced to stay open for the last few days of term. An FOI to explain this decision was answered by Jennie Harries stating that the RDPH had informed her London leaders were asking for advice on school risk management two weeks earlier. Why were the councils only told to just keep schools open rather than being advised to introduce additional measures like masks or rotas?
Why did Jennie Harries claim closing schools early could increase transmission because children wouldn't have access to in school testing when in school testing hadn't been introduced at this time except in a few trial schools?
The Joint Biosecurity Centre produced alert levels at which measures would be introduced or removed. A pivotal factor was the emergence of a new variant, NERVTAG updated a report on the Alpha variant on the 23rd of December. Why did the government ignore the JBC alert levels and SAGE recommendations when it decided primary school students should return in full on 4 January without any additional measures?
No minutes or documents from JBC meetings or discussions have been made publicly available, will the inquiry be able to access evidence from the JBC regarding their decisions in regards to education and children?
Why did the government choose to discontinue the deaths by occupation reports at the start of 2021?
Unlike many other countries masks were never advised for primary schools and only for two short periods in secondary school. The DfE said they needed to balance the benefits of masks with the harms, despite promising to produce their evidence of the harms of masks they have never released a report of their evidence. Where is their evidence base on the harms of masks?
Why do so many classrooms still have inadequate ventilation and air filtration? Based on a questionable surveys and a high CO2 limit of 1500ppm as acceptable air quality the DfE claimed over 96% of schools have good ventilation and no need for investment. This was based on a survey sent out with a week window to complete. Most schools had yet to receive their CO2 monitors by the time the survey closed. Details in the link
Living with Covid
Another area that hasn’t been considered is Freedom day and the Living with Covid strategy. The data was clear that certain groups and communities are disproportionately impacted by covid. Decisions have been made to remove the most basic of protections from
Did the government model/estimate the impact of its living with covid strategy?
What discussions were had regarding higher risk groups?
How was eligibility for Paxloid estimated?
Was any cost-benefit analysis done regarding investment in ventilation and filtration in workplaces, in particular hospitals/clinical settings, care homes and education settings?
Long covid, particularly in children, has often been overlooked as has a range of long term health impacts that are being identified,
Did the government estimate and discuss the number of long covid cases that could occur in 1 - 5 years?
Was the impact of long covid on healthcare systems discussed?
Was the long term economic impact of long covid discussed?
What long term planning has been put in place for developing treatments for long covid? Is there a plan to develop testing for biomarkers? To the dismay of long covid sufferers and campaigners the main study in the UK is being run by a psychology department recommended graded exercise.
When did the government first become aware of long covid? How much interest did they show in understanding the long term impacts of covid?
Surveillance and Preparedness
Against the recommendations of SAGE’s final document on future evolution of SARS2 which warned that there was no evolutionary reason for future variants to be “mild” the government decided to dismantle surveillance systems and cease investment in updating boosters.
How was the decision made to scale back surveillance such as the ONS survey and genomic testing to identify potential new variants? Why isn’t there more use of wastewater sampling?
What evidence was relied on in the decision not to invest/order annual booster updates? What discussions were had with the JCVI regarding the decision to end the vaccine programme for the majority of people?
Most of these questions are focused on specific policy decisions, however the WhatsApps are also likely to reveal how much internal party politics played in decision making.
Sunak’s has already explained his role in fighting back against scientific advisers, however he appears to have omitted important facts in his interview with the Spectator last year.
How influential were the Covid Recovery Group of predominantly Conservative MPs?
Did threats of legal challenges influence government decisions, for instance on reopening schools in September 2020 as claimed by the lobbying group UsForThem?
There is so much for the inquiry to examine, however much of the press will want to divert attention away from their own impact.