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The role of the government SAGE group in the corona virus is ‘downgraded’

The government’s Scientific Emergency Advisory Group (SAGE) will downgrade its role in the coronavirus crisis with the nation’s new Joint Biosecurity Center in charge of the heavy lifting, it said today.

The JBC will take control of the spread of the deadly disease and SAGE is now expected to meet less frequently.

The move, first reported by the BBC, has sparked controversy among scientists who say nothing is known about who works for the JBC and fear it will become a secret organization.

Funded by the Department of Health, the Joint Biosecurity Center, is part of the NHS Test and Trace scheme and is ultimately under the control of Baroness Dido Harding.

Experts today claimed it would be “ worrying ” if the role of SAGE – a panel of top independent scientists who advise the government for free – were cut.

Amid concerns over transparency, SAGE has disclosed a list of its members and regularly publishes papers of its meetings, which take place behind closed doors with officials in Whitehall.

But top researchers fear that the JBC would not commit to the same level of openness and that the science behind government decisions would be less clear.

A simmering quarrel broke out over the group’s stealth in April when Downing Street’s assistant Dominic Cummings attended the meetings.

According to reports, the Scientific Emergency Group will see its role in the coronavirus response diminish. Two of the main members of SAGE, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, will be standing next to Boris Johnson on Downing Street in March

According to reports, the Scientific Emergency Group will see its role in the coronavirus response diminish. Two of the main members of SAGE, Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, will be standing next to Boris Johnson on Downing Street in March

The JBC is currently tasked with helping the top government experts set the threat level for coronavirus, which is three in five.

It is staffed by epidemiologists and data analysts who will now apparently be tasked with finding ways to best identify and stop new outbreaks of the disease.

It is headed by Dr. Clare Gardiner, a qualified epidemiologist, medical researcher and cybersecurity director at GCHQ.

WHAT ARE SAGE AND THE JOINT BIOSECURITY CENTER?

SAGE

SAGE is the scientific emergency advisory group (SAGE).

It is a panel of scientific experts in various fields convened to provide advice to ministers and government officials in an emergency.

Panel members – except those representing the government, including Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance – are not paid for their involvement.

It is SAGE’s task to present the latest scientific data on a particular topic and discuss it in roundtable meetings to explore how this may influence government policies and decisions.

SAGE members are not stuck and change regularly depending on the nature of the crisis it is responding to. The group is chaired and organized by the Government Office for Science, headed by Sir Patrick Vallance.

Joint Biosecurity Center

The Joint Biosecurity Center is a new organization established by the government in May this year.

The JBC is tasked with monitoring disease outbreaks and has assisted the nation’s medical chiefs in determining the level of coronavirus threat.

The threat level is measured on a scale from one to five and currently stands at three, meaning that Covid-19 is ‘in general circulation’.

Staff are made up of epidemiologists and data analysts, but the structure and whether experts will be paid by government have not yet been disclosed.

The JBC is led by Dr. Clare Gardiner, a qualified epidemiologist, medical researcher and cybersecurity director at GCHQ.

She reports to Baroness Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, and the entire JBC organization is under the control of the Department of Health, which answers health secretary Matt Hancock.

It is currently unclear exactly how the JBC will work with other agencies such as Public Health England.

She reports to Baroness Dido Harding, the head of NHS Test and Trace, and the entire JBC organization is under the control of the Department of Health, which answers health secretary Matt Hancock.

Scientists fear that the independence of scientists on the payroll from the government to provide advice on Covid-19 will be compromised.

Dr. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet medical journal, said on Twitter: ‘The replacement of SAGE by the Joint Biosecurity Center as the primary mechanism for advising the government at the intersection of Covid-19 science with policy is a setback for independent scientific advice for the government, a setback for transparency and a setback for public confidence. ‘

Professor Susan Michie, a health psychologist at University College London, said: ‘With deaths in England over 100 a day and no clear strategy for reducing this to zero Covid, it would be very strange and worrying to see the role, cohesion reduce and frequency of SAGE and to transfer responsibilities to a new body, the Joint Biosecurity Center, which is secretly shrouded, without information about its members, how they were selected, and methods of governance, oversight and accountability.

“Transparency of science and the relationship between science and policy will become the key to public confidence that the government urgently needs to restore.”

SAGE will now take on more of a back seat role, meet less often and report directly to the relevant ministers with its many subgroups.

Insiders have pointed out that SAGE is designed to respond to emergencies, but it is not necessarily designed to work under enormous pressure for a long period of time.

Some believe that it is simply not sustainable to expect SAGE members to continue working as they have been.

A spokesman for the group told the BBC, “SAGE will continue to provide one consensus on scientific advice at the heart of government decision-making to inform the national strategic response to the coronavirus epidemic.

As we move into the next stage of the coronavirus response, the JBC will complement Sage’s work and provide greater operational focus, including data analysis and epidemiological expertise, with the aim of ensuring that coronavirus outbreaks are quickly detected and controlled brought. ‘

It remains unclear exactly how the JBC will work and how it will fit in and work with other government agencies such as Public Health England.

The former scientific adviser to the head of government, Sir David King, said, “Will the JBC scientists be willing to be investigated by the media, or is it a body providing information to ministers behind the scenes?

“If the latter is the case, how will the government regain public confidence?”

Professor Robert Dingwall, a sociologist at Nottingham Trent University, said, “I think experience has shown that current structures are not ideal, although I’m not sure the JBC is the right path …

‘In the public domain, there is relatively little about the occupation and operation of the JBC.

‘I certainly agree that more information is desirable when compiling and that advice and reports should focus on transparency.

“Personally, I would like to see a more interdisciplinary body set up as the highest level, connecting the chief scientists of major public services with a range of high-level external expertise in the sciences and social sciences, supported by a permanent director and secretariat. ‘

Despite criticizing the way the JBC appears to overshadow SAGE and become the advisory body to civil servants, experts have not all praised SAGE.

Professor Dingwall said, “SAGE has normally gathered a group for specific emergencies with fluid membership, reflecting the nature of the event.

‘The danger of such a system is that too little expertise can develop, with a limited degree of intellectual challenge and critical testing.

‘In the case of the current pandemic, for example, there is clearly a shift from the social approach envisaged in the 2007 plan to a narrower biomedical / public health approach.’

And Professor Derek Hill, a medical expert at University College London, added, “It is important that the JBC draw lessons from the Covid-19 response so far.

‘An underestimated problem is the importance of medical equipment, such as PPE, fans and test kits, in the management of a pandemic.

“It is essential that JBC has access to expertise on these types of technologies: the way they are developed and regulated and their performance. SAGE seemed to have limited expertise in these areas. ‘

Sir David King, a former government chief scientific advisor, has wondered how the Joint Biosecurity Center will work

Sir David King, a former government chief scientific advisor, has wondered how the Joint Biosecurity Center will work

Sir David King, a former government chief scientific advisor, has wondered how the Joint Biosecurity Center will work

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