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Thérèse Coffey says ministers will have made coronavirus mistakes 'if advice was wrong' from scientists

Thérèse Coffey has defended the Government's approach to the pandemic (PA)

3 min read

Thérèse Coffey has suggested "wrong" scientific advice could have led to blunders in the Government’s response to the pandemic.

The Work and Pensions Secretary claimed ministers had followed the guidance of experts "every step of the way" in their reponse to the virus, amid growing criticism of their efforts to tackle its spread in care homes.

It comes as official figures showed the UK has suffered more than 44,000 Covid-19 deaths, with around a third of fatalities in England and Wales coming in the community setting.

But asked with "hindsight" if the Government had made errors in its approach, Ms Coffey told Sky News: "I've said that ministers have been getting advice from the scientists.

"It is for ministers to decide on policy. We have tried to take every step of the way, making sure we listen to the science, understand the science, and make decisions based on that.

"I think that is what the British public would expect. I think they also recognise that as we learn more about this very new virus and especially the impact on how it is transmitting in this country that they have seen government ministers respond to the latest science and being able to develop policy as a consequence of it."

She added: "You can only make judgements and decisions based on the information and the advice you have at the time...if the science was wrong if the advice at the time was wrong I am not suprised if people think we made the wrong decision."

Her comments came as Sir Adrian Smith, the incoming president of the Royal Society, urged ministers not to claim they were "simply doing what scientists tell us".

And the leading statistician put further pressure on Boris Johnson to publish the full scientific advice provided to ministers as he accused them of downplaying the "extraordinary amounts of uncertainty" around the new virus.

"The danger is if the politicians keep saying, 'We're simply doing what the scientists tell us'. That could be awkward. Politicians ultimately must make the decisions," he told The Times.

"There will be a post mortem on this. But I think the use of science and the re-establishment of experts is something that won’t go away. And I think it won’t be the backlash that, you know, the scientists, got it wrong."

But questioned about the approach, Ms Coffey insisted scientists were working with a "limited amount of information" and that ministers were willing to change their approach based on the latest advice.

She added: "I did a PhD in Chemistry myself, this is not a straightforward thing. I don't pretend to be an epidemiologist or anything like that.

"You face a situation, you have a limited amount of information about it, and you have to either make assumptions or judgements.

"From that, ministers can choose to make decisions or policy based on that but as you learn more, and we are contuining to learn a lot more, then advice may well change which we can then update our policy.

"That is why yesterday it is the first time we have said you are eligible for a test if you've got a change in the symptoms of whether you can taste or smell.

"So that is a change based on later scientific views and what we can do to help tackle this."

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