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Senior statistician Sir David Spiegelhalter told MPs ministers picked worst-case scenarios which were often based on old data as they prepared their case for tighter COVID-19 restrictions. He said: “I don’t want to ascribe motivation to anyone of course. But if someone was really trying to manipulate the audience and frighten them and persuade them that what was being done was correct, rather than genuinely inform them, then this is the kind of thing they might do.”
Those projections were made by one team early in October under certain very pessimistic assumptions
Sir David Spiegelhalter
Number 10 unveiled graphs predicting 50,000 cases by mid-October and 4,000 deaths a day by late November as tough new regulations were imposed across the country.
The charts have been proved wildly inaccurate as England recorded 14,000 daily infections last month while daily deaths average 441.
Professor Spiegelhalter told the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee: “Those projections were made by one team early in October under certain very pessimistic assumptions.
“They’d already been revised twice by the time they were shown to the public so it was completely inappropriate to present them to the public.”
He continued: “I’m not saying the judgment to decide to go into lockdown was wrong, I’m not making any comment about that.
“What I’m objecting to strongly is the fact such spurious data and graphs were being presented to the public as a justification for the decisions that were being made.
“You didn’t need that graph, you just needed quite short-term projections to tell something needed to be done or we could be in real trouble very quickly.
“There is good data available and yet at some point the need to persuade people, to instil a certain emotional reaction in people seems to take over at really quite a high level of decision making. I think it’s quite unfortunate.
“I’m on record as having complained about what I call ‘the number theatre’ of briefings in which big numbers were being thrown out, which seemed to be intended to give an effect favourable to politicians rather than genuinely trying to inform the public, who are sacrificing so much over this whole period.”
The Cambridge professor hit out as the Government and devolved administrations have agreed to ease restrictions over the festive season despite concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
People will be able to join “Christmas bubbles” to allow families to celebrate together.
The temporary easing of measures will allow three households to mix in a bubble from December 23 to 27.
Social distancing will be relaxed within the bubbles, giving people the chance to hug friends and family for the first time in months.
Boris Johnson acknowledged the measures would not add up to a “normal Christmas” and urged people to exercise caution – particularly when meeting with the elderly or the vulnerable.
He said: “We can’t afford to throw caution to the wind. The virus doesn’t know it’s Christmas and we must all be careful.
“I know this doesn’t equate to a normal Christmas and it won’t work for everyone. It is up to each of us to think carefully about how we use this time-limited special dispensation.”
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A joint statement issued by the four UK governments said they had been working closely together to find a way for family and friends to see each other, recognising it must be “limited and cautious”.
Each Christmas bubble can meet at home, at a place of worship or an outdoor public place, but existing, more restrictive rules on hospitality and meeting in other venues will be maintained throughout the period.
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