Double standards over Neil Ferguson’s resignation | Letters

The epidemiologist made an error of judgment but his research may have saved thousands of lives, says Joe McCarthy. Plus Dr Chris Newall on Boris Johnson’s own disregard for safety. Plus letters from Prof Adrian Renton, Angela Barton and Dr John Doherty

Matt Hancock said he was “speechless” to hear that Neil Ferguson had broken lockdown rules (Hancock says he backs any police action against Ferguson, 6 May).

However, the Imperial College scientist’s warning that 250,000 people could die without a lockdown is widely credited as being the catalyst for Boris Johnson’s belated but necessary decision to take more drastic Covid-19 action. In short, Ferguson’s intervention may have been directly responsible for saving thousands of lives.

Even more significantly, the UK, with already the highest death toll in Europe, needs all the expertise it can get in dealing with the next stages of the pandemic.

Clearly, the scientist made a huge error of judgement. But he is only human. Surely he deserves a second chance.
Joe McCarthy
Dublin, Ireland

• Re your report (Neil Ferguson: UK coronavirus adviser resigns after breaking lockdown rules, 5 May), Prof Neil Ferguson’s epidemiological modelling played a major part in moving government policy away from the misguided “herd immunity” scenario. Despite suffering himself, he worked tirelessly and his group’s research had a major impact on the handling of the epidemic.

Ferguson’s resignation from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) because of a breach of the physical distancing rules shows him to be a man of honour who does not wish his error to get in the way of the UK’s fight against the coronavirus.

Contrast this with the behaviour of Boris Johnson, a man significantly lacking in honour, who boasted about gladhanding everyone, whether infected or not – and subsequently suffered the consequences.

Johnson’s attitude throughout his career resembles that of Sir John Falstaff (Henry IV Part 1): “What is honour? A word … I’ll none of it. Honour is a mere scutcheon. And so ends my catechism.”

Do we want to live in a country led by Boris Falstaff? No, we do not. He should resign or be replaced immediately.
Dr Chris Newall
Ealing, London

• The furore over Neil Ferguson being visited by his girlfriend, and Matt Hancock’s response, reek of hypocrisy. The Scottish chief medical officer had to resign after visiting a country home. Boris Johnson went to hospital from No 10. And when discharged he went off to his second home (Chequers). I suggest we need Ferguson more than Johnson.
Prof Adrian Renton
Emeritus professor of public health medicine, Institute for Health and Human Development, University of East London

• The Daily Telegraph considers it right that the adviser admitting to breaching regulations should immediately resign. Why doesn’t it hold its long-term columnist Boris Johnson to the same standard when he has boasted of flouting regulations on more than one occasion?
Angela Barton
Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire

• You report Prof Neil Ferguson’s 20 years’ experience in modelling epidemics including foot and mouth disease, Sars, swine flu, Mers, Ebola and Zika (Report, 5 May), but omit his 2005 forecast that up to 200 million people could be killed by an imminent bird flu pandemic.

The World Health Organization reports that to date the cumulative total of deaths from bird flu is 455.
Dr John Doherty
Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire


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