On mass events, social distancing, isolation, school closures, and testing, the government's message hasn't always been clear.
The government's messaging during the coronavirus pandemic has not always been clear. This isn't surprising. The question of how to handle a pandemic is hugely complex — the scientific evidence supporting the political answers evolves throughout, and different experts are entitled to different views at different times. On top of that, the government's strategy was designed to evolve from the outset.
These are the reasons for many — but not all — of the wrinkles, deviations, and contradictions we saw throughout the fraught period as coronavirus hit the UK.
Much of the evidence to the government has been made public, and it means we have a level of insight into where the government's words and decisions, and the advice from the experts, come together — and diverge.
These timelines explore five of the biggest issues: mass events, social distancing, school closures, isolation, and testing.
11 Feb: Clear advice on mass gatherings is published in a paper from the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (SPI-M-O): “The direct impact of stopping large public gatherings on the population-level spread of the epidemic is low, because they make up only a small proportion of an attendee’s contacts with other people.”
The group says stopping large events could in fact make the pandemic worse, since it could cause displacement to pubs or other confined places — or it could limit the pandemic by changing people's behaviour "in other ways" that can't be quantified.
27 Feb: As fears of a pandemic begin to mount, chief medical officer Chris Whitty tells the media the government could shut down mass gatherings. Two days later the health minister Ed Argar says such decisions will be taken on the basis of scientific evidence.