Boris Johnson’s claims to Parliament that ministers were unaware the virus could be spread by asymptomatic people have been further cast in doubt
Following a Supreme Court ruling that the government acted unlawfully by moving elderly patients from hospital to care homes without testing, Boris Johnson told PMQ last week: ‘What we specifically did not know was that Covid could be transmitted asymptomatically like it was.”
The Prime Minister’s claims to Parliament that ministers were unaware that Covid-19 could be transmitted without symptoms have been cast in further doubt after it emerged that the government’s scientific advisers were making plans to tackle the problem in the early days of the Pandemic discussed.
But on January 27, 2020, more than six weeks before ministers approved the controversial care home directive, the government’s top scientific advisers discussed developing diagnostic tests for people who are spreading Covid-19 without symptoms.
Details of the meeting are in the book SPIKE The virus against humansby former Sage adviser Sir Jeremy Farrar and journalist Anjana Ahuja, which was published in 2021 but is being cast in a new light following the High Court ruling.
In addition to Sir Jeremy, the virtual meeting was attended by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, the English chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and the two deputy chief medical officers Professor Jonathan Van-Tam and Dr. Jenny Harries in attendance.
Last week’s Supreme Court ruling listed more than 20 cases in which scientists raised the possibility that Covid could be unknowingly passed on by people either before they developed symptoms or were not sick at all.
Disclosure of the January 27, 2020 meeting suggests that high-level government discussions were indeed taking place on how to stop asymptomatic spreaders and that this was taken seriously at the onset of the pandemic.
Although it is not known if ministers were present at the meeting, the scientific advisers will have provided them with information on the virus at Cobra meetings in late January and early February 2020.
Representatives for bereaved families have claimed that the government’s policy of not testing people leaving hospital before they are transferred contributed to 20,000 deaths in care homes between March and June 2020.
Last week, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman denied that Mr Johnson misled Parliament, adding: “To my knowledge there was no previous coronavirus with asymptomatic transmission… There were some reports of asymptomatic transmission… but there wasn’t at the time There was certainty and concrete views on this and obviously the government has always tried to act as the information we had about this virus evolves.
“Many characteristics of this virus were reported at that time – the government cannot simply act on unsubstantiated reports, it is the government’s job to consider all advice and act accordingly.”