Boris Johnson was told to stop blaming public for increasing COVID infections, newly released Sage document shows
Top scientists called for “more positive approaches” to encourage people to follow COVID rules
PM and ministers had blamed public amid autumn spike in cases
Boris Johnson was told by his top coronavirus advisers to stop blaming the public for a spike in cases, it has emerged.
Minutes for a meeting of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), released on Friday, showed scientists made a thinly-veiled swipe at Johnson and his ministers following a number of instances in which they criticised the public as COVID-19 infections rose.
In the meeting on 22 October, the scientists warned “more positive approaches to sustaining adherence are needed, avoiding blame and focusing on enabling members of the public to engage sustainably with infection control behaviours, rather than seeking to ensure compliance with rules by relying on enforcement”.
Sage said the government could instead “provide positive feedback” and promote “positive alternatives to restricted activities”.
Examples of the government having blamed the public include:
On 22 September, after announcing a raft of new COVID rules, Johnson blamed rule breakers for the second wave, saying in an address to the nation there had been “too many breaches” allowing the “invisible enemy to slip through”
On 8 September, when imposing new restrictions on Bolton, health secretary Matt Hancock blamed the local infection spike on “socialising by people in their 20s and 30s”
Johnson was criticised for this in light of his backing of top adviser Dominic Cummings after his infamous trips to Durham and Barnard Castle days after the first national lockdown was imposed.
A top behavioural scientist, Prof Stephen Reicher, also argued it was government policies such as encouraging people to go back to their workplaces and use pubs and restaurants that were more to blame for the autumn spike in COVID cases.
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Meanwhile, the new SAGE document also pointed to a lack of trust from young people in Johnson’s government.
“Young people are adhering less and have lower trust in government relative to the rest of the population,” the minutes read.
Sage even recommended Downing Street to stop trying to connect with young people over COVID as they are “more likely to trust in messages from non-government sources, such as charities, celebrities, sports clubs and commercial brands”.