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Covid panic over new strain 'unjustified' scientists say


Panic over ‘mutant Covid' strains is unjustified, experts say, with even scientists on government advisory teams ‘surprised' at ministers' reaction.

Boris Johnson justified his decision to bring in more restrictions last weekend - which led to millions having to cancel Christmas and more the 40 countries closing their borders to the UK - on findings from Nervtag, the group that looks at new viral threats. But sources with knowledge of the meeting insist most of its members made no recommendations on restrictions, instead suggesting more research was needed. Minutes of the meetings back up this claim.

One insider said they believed forceful lobbying by a small number of experts pushed the government into the action, despite the fact most of the Nervtag members had not called for it.

They suggested that the new strain gave pro-lockdown scientists the opportunity to lobby for tighter restrictions as well as allowing the government to defend a reversal of its controversial relaxation of Christmas rules.

The minutes show that the group unanimously only had “moderate confidence” the new strain was more transmissible than other variants concluding a new body of scientists be “convened to provide further advice on risk and risk mitigation measures”. The minutes make no reference to the need for any new restrictions.

Other scientists have questioned whether it was even possible to reach the conclusion the new strain was up to 70 per cent more transmissible, a claim made by Mr Johnson on announcing the new tiers. This has since been revised to 56 per cent.