The Government’s Chief Medical Adviser and Chief Scientific Adviser have admitted that the decision to close churches in England is not based on clear evidence.
Appearing in front of the Science and Technology Committee in Westminster, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance were grilled by Mark Logan MP about the advice the Scientific Advisory Group in Emergencies (SAGE) had given on church closures ahead of the Government’s announcement on a second national lockdown.
The advisers accepted that what little data existed to support the action was “very weak”.
Asked by Logan to account for SAGE’s advice “where evidence is weak, for example on the closing of places of worship”, Sir Patrick responded: “We haven’t got good evidence on the exact value of each intervention on ‘R’.
“We produced a paper suggesting what that might be in different areas, but really said ‘Look, this is not an exact science at all.’ And therefore I’m afraid it’s a rather blunt instrument”.
The MP for Bolton North East followed up by asking: “Since the 4th of July, when we’ve had these national relaxations, how much transmission do you think has taken place within places of worship? Is it statistically significant or quite negligible?”
Sir Patrick admitted: “I don’t think we have good data to answer that with any degree of certainty.”
‘Very weak data’
Prof Whitty added: “There is some very weak data to imply that even if a place of worship has been incredibly good about being COVID-secure, by bringing people together, people can congregate outside and do things which do lead to transmission”, but he added that much of this is “anecdotal” and not “scientific fact”.
The UK Government’s Chief Medical Adviser also acknowledged that “all the faith communities in the UK have been extraordinarily responsible” in the way they have dealt with the pandemic.
The Government advisers claimed the decision on churches was “part of a package” of measures which is expected to bring the rate of infection (‘R’) down, but that people should not attempt to “pick apart” how effective each individual intervention might be.
Responding to Sir Patrick’s admission, Simon Calvert, Deputy Director for Public Affairs at The Christian Institute said: “Yesterday we asked where the evidence was to justify this restriction on the fundamental right to worship. Today we learned there is none. This is shocking.
“No-one underestimates the challenge of COVID but if the Government is going to keep universities and garden centres open while forcing places of worship to close, they should at least have a clear justification. It’s now apparent that they don’t.
“This is especially hard to understand given that churches have been rigorous in complying with COVID rules. They really should be allowed to continue as they were. It’s not too late for the Government to amend its regulations. Failing that, they can bring forward new amending regulations in the next week to fix this problem.”