Tory MPs warned SAGE‘s doomsday predictions – wheeled out by Boris Johnson on Saturday night to announce the draconian measures – had echoes of the controversial dossier that sent Britain to war with Iraq.
It emerged last night a graph brandished at the same gloomy press conference that claimed England could see up to 1,500 Covid-19 deaths a day by December had been secretly toned down ‘after an error was found’ in the data.
The prediction caused widespread alarm because, if true, it would dwarf the 1,000 daily deaths recorded during the peak of the first wave in April.
SAGE’s forecast for hospital admissions was also quietly revised from 9,000 by early December to 6,190.
Tory MPs Marcus Fysh and Peter Bone warned public confidence was being eroded because data of ‘such bad quality’ was being used to usher in such detrimental policies.
The compared it to the ‘dodgy dossier’ on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, which were used to take the country to war in the Middle East. All of the allegations included in the 2003 document have been since proven to be false.
Scientists and doctors told MailOnline the fact Number 10 amended its charts without telling the public showed ‘those at the top are trying to suppress things and cover up their mistakes’.
It comes as an Office for National Statistics report today found daily infections plummeted by 12 per cent in the last week, in another sign the crisis was slowing before the national lockdown.
MailOnline’s analysis of Public Health England’s weekly coronavirus surveillance report, released last night, showed a sea of green has swept across the country. More than half of local authorities — including hotspots of Blackburn with Darwen, Manchester and Nottingham — recorded a drop in Covid-19 cases in the final week of October.
According to the Daily Telegraph, the charts which once predicted 1,500 deaths by December now contain a note which says: ‘Plots on slides four and five have been amended after an error was found’.
Mr Fysh told MailOnline: ‘I have been concerned a while about the quality of the data and the quality of the analysis by the medial advisory team.
‘Obviously the trends are serious, particularly in some areas in the North West and north East, London and the Midlands and we need to respect that.
‘Confidence is everything in this… we need to build the confidence in the system. That is why we also need to not have dodgy charts produced like the Iraq war. A dodgy dossier is not something that builds public confidence. The opposite is true.’
The Yeovil MP said he would not have tolerated the quality of analysis in his previous career as a city fund manager.
He said: ‘If analysts had come to me with some of this stuff, you would have just said please don’t call me again. It’s such bad quality.
‘I do fear the government is being led by advice which isn’t well founded. They need to challenge these scientists on SAGE who clearly haven’t done enough of the challenging themselves. You just can’t take what they advise on face value.’
Mr Fysh pointed out that many outbreaks had been among students. ‘For a while Exeter looked like it was having a massive outbreak. That was because they were testing all the students to get control of the situation.
‘I’m not saying it hasn’t leaked out and doesn’t need addressing. But we just need better interpretation of this data overall.’
Mr Fysh said he had ‘huge sympathy’ for the PM. ‘I think he has been bounced by bad advice.’
Tory MP Peter Bone also complained that the lockdown decision appeared to have been justified with an Iraq-style ‘dodgy dossier of Covid graphs’.
‘It feels to me like we were getting propaganda. We were only getting things that proved the government’s case.
‘Those figures now seem to have been based on false assumptions or been incorrectly calculated.
‘Other ones that point in a different direction haven’t been disclosed. So it is a bit of a dodgy dossier really.’
‘I wasn’t there when Iraq decision was made but obviously there was this dossier produced to support the policy, rather than being neutral information for people to make their mind up. Maybe all the information that we have been seeing is being done to support a decision that had already been made.’
He told MailOnline the PHE report bore out figures he was seeing for Northamptonshire, and suggested the Tiers had been working before the blanket lockdown.
‘This is why I found it difficult to understand why we abandoned the Tier approach. And we now know by their own admission that the modelling was wrong,’ he said.
‘There are lies, damn lies and Covid statistics. Nobody has explained why we abandoned the Tier approach, unless it was they saw this dreadful model from scientists saying you’re going to get 4,000 people dying every day. At the moment there doesn’t seem to be any evidence we’re moving in that direction.’
Mr Bone said there seemed to be a ‘knee jerk reaction’ to the dire warnings from scientists, and the PM was ‘bounced’.
‘The danger with this is decisions are made, for instance to keep hospital beds empty because they expect Covid patients and not put in people who need cancer tests and all that sort of thing… it has a health effect that causes more deaths.’
Professor Paul Hunter, an epidemiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline the latest revelation was ‘disappointing to say the least’.
He added: ‘Errors do happen and need to be corrected as soon as possible. But getting errors in such high profile headline statistics like this and then having to correct them does undermine trust in the data presented.
‘It’s interesting that the epidemic seems to have been slowing even before we went into this latest lockdown, and now the increase in hospitalisations in England may even have slowed as well but too early to be sure, we need another three or four days of data. But it is beginning to look like maybe things were already heading in the right direction.’
Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and professor of medicine at the University of Buckingham, claimed it was evidence that ‘those at the top were trying to suppress things and cover up their mistakes’.
He added: ‘We should be in the land of openness, we’re seven months into this pandemic. And we’re still getting daily data that is badly presented and badly handled.
‘I think they need to get more practical people behind them, at the moment it’s a bunch of epidemiologists [in SAGE]who are good at maths, but they need to get people in the real world.’
It comes just days after the government was savaged by critics for a separate worst case scenario claim that deaths could hit 4,000 a day by next month.
Professor Whitty conceded that the 4,000 daily deaths prediction was unlikely to come true because the modelling was a worst-case scenario based on a situation where no extra measures were brought in.
And former PM Theresa May delivered a damning assessment of Mr Johnson’s handling of the situation, saying the controversial claim was ‘wrong before it was even used’.
Pressure will now continue to pile up on the government with the latest revelation.
Ministers were last night warned not to present virus data in a ‘confusing’ way. The statistics watchdog said issuing figures without ‘appropriate explanations of context and sources’ risked harming public confidence.
But Boris Johnson, looking even more unkempt than usual despite his pre-lockdown haircut, insisted: ‘We try to make things as clear as we possibly can.’
The UK Statistics Authority said the Government and devolved administrations must make clear the source of data used in public briefings and the full figures behind it. It added: ‘The use of data has not consistently been supported by transparent information being provided in a timely manner.
‘As a result, there is potential to confuse the public and undermine confidence in the statistics.
‘It is important that data are shared in a way that promotes transparency and clarity. It should be published in a clear and accessible form with appropriate explanations of context and sources. It should be made available to all at the time the information is referenced publicly.’
The watchdog added: ‘It is clear that those working on the pandemic face significant pressures. But full transparency is vital to public understanding and public confidence in statistics and those who use them.’
The warning comes after former prime minister Theresa May accused Mr Johnson of choosing data to fit his virus policies and tore into predictions said to have informed his decision to impose a second national lockdown.
Yesterday Mr Johnson said at a press conference: ‘The projections vary widely – some scientists take very different views from other scientists. That’s why you’ve also got to add the political judgment that’s necessary about the economic consequences.’
Professor Yvonne Doyle, director of health protection at Public Health England, defended the models used to justify the measures. Asked if the worst numbers had been chosen to back up the lockdown policy, she told the BBC: ‘I don’t think that is the case at all. That’s not why these models are presented – they are presented to aid planning.’
Source Daily Mail