A key scientist advising the government on the coronavirus pandemic has resigned after reportedly flouting social distancing restrictions, admitting he made an “error of judgement”.
Professor Neil Ferguson, an epidemiologist whose modelling convinced Boris Johnson to press ahead with a UK-wide lockdown, stood down from the scientific advisory group for emergencies (Sage) after allegations emerged in the Daily Telegraph.
It was claimed on Tuesday evening that professor Ferguson had allowed a woman to visit him at home in London at least two occasions during the lockdown – despite strict rules against mixing households.
In a statement, the professor of mathematical biology at Imperial College London, said: “I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action.”
He continued: “I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in Sage. I 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. The government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us.”
The day after the lockdown was announced, on 24 March, Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, said that couples who do not cohabit must either move in together or not meet at all for the duration of the restrictive measures.
A government spokesman confirmed Prof Ferguson – who led the Imperial team which modelled the spread and impact of covid-19 for the government – has stood down from Sage.
The report said merely slowing the spread of the virus, which had at that point been the aim, would have led to the NHS being overwhelmed by cases. Around 250,000 people would have died in the UK in that scenario but the research said stricter measures would drastically reduce this.
Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, told The Daily Telegraph: “Scientists like him have told us we should not be doing it, so surely in his case it is a case of we have been doing as he says and he has been doing as he wants to.
“He has peculiarly breached his own guidelines and for an intelligent man I find that very hard to believe. It risks undermining the government’s lockdown message.”
His decision to leave Sage comes after the high-profile resignation of Dr Catherine Calderwood, who as Scotland’s chief medical officer, faced a storm of criticism for making two trips to her second home during despite restrictions.