April 27, 2020 / 2:48 PM / a month ago

Britain's science advice group to publish names of attendees soon

LONDON (Reuters) - A group who advise Britain’s government over its response to the coronavirus outbreak will publish the names of some of the scientists involved soon, Britain’s Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance said on Monday.

Vallance rejected the suggestion that the government had been reluctant to publish details about who attended the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) meetings because political advisers had been listening in, saying officials were often on the calls but did not direct discussion.

“The usual practice with SAGE is that the names of the scientists who’ve been involved in the process are published after the emergency is over,” Vallance said on a conference call with journalists.

“I believe that we should be more prepared to publish names sooner, and intend to do so shortly. So we will be publishing names of those that are happy to have their names published.”

Vallance said that the length of the coronavirus crisis meant that SAGE should review its procedures on transparency and publish the documents they work with more quickly.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most senior aide, Dominic Cummings, is among those who have taken part in the meetings of the scientific panel, the Guardian newspaper reported on Friday, prompting criticism from the opposition.

Vallance said officials had always been at SAGE meetings, and while the minutes did not record whether advisers from the prime minister’s 10 Downing Street office had listened to the briefings, Vallance said that it was common for them to do so.

“We also have officials from Whitehall who listen in to the meetings and can ask questions if they wish to, but they’re not part of the general discussion,” Vallance said.

“In this situation... we’ve had a lot, a lot of officials attending meetings and listening in. And yes that does include people from Number 10, and yes, occasionally they ask questions.”

Reporting by Alistair Smout, editing by Estelle Shirbon

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