Britain defends independence of coronavirus panel

Britain defends independence of coronavirus panel

Britain's government has defended the independence of the group of scientists advising on the coronavirus pandemic after it emerged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson's controversial chief aide had attended meetings of the panel.

After a report in The Guardian, the government confirmed that Dominic Cummings had attended several meetings of the Scientific Advice for Emergencies, or SAGE, and listened to discussions.

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But it denied Cummings -- who is not a scientist --was a member of the group.

The government said “SAGE provides independent scientific advice to the government. Political advisers have no role in this.”

SAGE is a usually little-known group headed by Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty.

The government has declined to publish its full membership, saying that could leave the scientists open to lobbying or pressure.

As Britain's official toll from the virus approaches 20,000 dead, the government's response is under increasing scrutiny, especially its perceived slowness in imposing a nationwide lockdown.