This is what Sage is and why a key government scientist has quit

Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 1:24 pm
Updated Wednesday, 6th May 2020, 1:24 pm
Professor Neil Ferguson resigned after flouting social distancing rules (Photo: House of Commons/PA Wire)

A key scientist who has been aiding the government in its coronavirus response has resigned from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), after admitting an “error in judgement”.

Professor Neil Ferguson’s research aided Boris Johnson in his decision to impose the UK lockdown, but he said he regrets “undermining” the continued need for social distancing.

His admission came after it was claimed he broke the rules.

What is Sage?

Sage provides scientific and technical advice to support decision makers in the government during national emergencies.

The group is responsible for ensuring timely scientific advice is made available to support government decisions in the Cabinet Office Briefing Room (COBR).

Its membership is dependent on the nature of the emergency, but it typically includes leading experts from within the government, along with leading experts from the fields of academia and industry.

Who is on the committee?

Sage is usually chaired by the government’s chief scientific advisor, Sir Patrick Vallance.

He is responsible for providing scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet, advising on aspects of policy on science and technology, and improving the quality and use of scientific evidence in government.

These are the members of the Sage committee:

Sir Patrick Vallance FMedSci FRS - Government Chief Scientific Adviser

Professor Chris Whitty CB FMedSci - Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser,

Department of Health and Social Care

Professor John Aston - Chief Scientific Adviser, Home Office

Professor Wendy Barclay FMedSci - Imperial College London

Professor Phil Blythe - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Transport

Professor Dame Angela McLean FRS - Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of

Defence Professor Graham Medley - London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

Professor Andrew Morris FMedSci FRSE - University of Edinburgh

Professor Carole Mundell - Chief Scientific Adviser, Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Professor Cath Noakes - University of Leeds

Dr Rob Orford - Welsh Government

Professor Michael Parker - University of Oxford

Professor Sharon Peacock FMedSci - Public Health England

Professor Alan Penn - Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government

Professor Steve Powis FRCP - National Health Service England

Dr Mike Prentice - National Health Service England

Mr Osama Rahman - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Education

Professor Venki Ramakrishnan PRS - Ex Officio as Chair of DELVE, convened by the Royal Society

Professor Andrew Rambaut FRSE - University of Edinburgh

Professor Tom Rodden - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Professor Brooke Rogers OBE - Kings College London

Dr James Rubin - Kings College London

Professor Calum Semple - University of Liverpool

Dr Mike Short CBE - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Trade

Dr Gregor Smith - Scottish Government Chief Medical Officer

Professor Sir David Spieglhalter FRS - University of CambridgeProfessor Jonathan Van Tam MBE - Deputy Chief Medical Officer

Professor Russell Viner PRCPCH - University College London

Professor Charlotte Watts CMG FMedSci - Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for International Development

Professor Mark Walport FRCP FMedSci - FRS UK Research and Innovation

Professor Mark Woolhouse FRSE - University of Edinburgh

Professor Lucy Yardley - University of Bristol

Professor Ian Young - Northern Ireland Executive

Professor Maria Zambon FMedSci - Public Health England

What rules did Professor Ferguson break?

Professor Ferguson reportedly allowed a woman, said to be his “lover”, to visit him at home in London on at least two occasions during the lockdown, despite his research warning that 250,000 people could die in the UK before the Prime Minister imposed the restrictions.

He said: “I accept I made an error of judgment and took the wrong course of action. I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in Sage

"I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus, and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.

"I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic.

“The Government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us."