Recovery today challenged Matt Hancock to reveal the details of the strain of SARS COV-19 that he announced on Monday as a new and more infectious mutation, as evidence emerged that those claims may have been seriously misleading.
On Tuesday 15 December, Professor Nick Loman of the Covid-19 Genomics UK (COG UK) consortium, identified the new set of mutations as VUI – 202012/0. He confirmed that it is not new, as COG UK identified it in September, and there is no proof that it is more infectious. As Professor Sharon Peacock, COG Director, pointed out: “We are still dealing with very thin evidence at the moment about this variant.”
Dr Maria van Kerkhove, the technical lead of COVID-19 response and the head of emerging diseases and zoonosis unit at WHO, has also confirmed that the strain involved has been circulating for many months, though she referred to it as N501Y.
Recovery is challenging Matt Hancock to answer these key questions:
- Why did he announce this as a new strain on the eve of the tier review when it appears to have been circulating for several months (and may have existed for months more before it was identified)?
- Why has he made headlines with the news that it’s more infectious when the experts who identified the strain say that we don‘t have evidence for that yet?
- Will he publish the evidence he has for that so his claims can be independently verified?
- In the words of the Washington Post, “At a news conference Monday evening, neither Hancock nor England’s chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, released enough data to help the public understand the significance of the new variant.” Does he now regret the way that this announcement was handled, given that it has attracted international criticism?
- With millions of lives and livelihoods at stake, does he now consider that the statement he made to Parliament about the ‘new’ strain may have been misleading?
- Does he retain confidence in the Government advisers who briefed him on it?
- With even the experts at the World Health Organisation who are responsible for tackling the virus apparently confused by the information that the DHSC has provided over the details of the ‘new’ strain, will he remind his department to prioritise accuracy and the clear communication of the known facts over sensationalist language that makes headlines?
There’s a lot more about this here.