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A thread on COVID and AUTHORITY: The UK government decided that the best way to deal with the pandemic was by authority: government ministers would simply tell people what to do; they would appear daily on podia flanked by scientists; rules would be set with little explanation.
The government's view on science would come first. The science that it was basing its views on would only be published months later, and the conversations about it wouldn't happen in public. The main question was, within this framework, what the government thought it could tell
tell people to do, and what would be considered an overreach.

The trouble is that not only did this authority-based approach not work, but there was no Plan B. Months on the government's authority is in tatters. Nobody believes the slightest thing they say about the science
because they have routinely cherry-picked evidence and won't explain the basis of their decisions. They have shown more of an interest in decreasing the number of deaths counted on paper than actually stopping people dying. The response to the pandemic has, in terms of infections
and deaths, been worse than nearly everywhere in the Europe. This has been a direct result of the decisions that were made about how strict the lockdown would be, what testing would be done, the fact that instead of operating a proper "find, test, trace, isolate and support"
system designed to catch every case, they went for a cheap, outsourced "track and trace" system that doesn't work. And then the last bit of authority they had was spent on exculpating and excusing themselves for what went wrong, instead of putting it right. So what would a Plan B
look like? One answer is that it would involve a real attempt to *include the public* in the decisions that are being made. It would involve a massive effort to *make scientific deliberations open* and to offer *massive public education* on how the pandemic works and what can
done to fight it. In this version, SAGE and the government would have their conversations in public, so people could see how they are deliberating scientific evidence. Everyone would be able to see if they are ignoring certain evidence. Public service broadcasters would produce
programmes about virology, about the virus in society, about what is working where and how. Instead of being terrified to talk about science, and health correspondents just saying "today the government said this", there could be multifaceted conversations in public so that
everyone can understand what is being proposed and why, what the risks and benefits are. New science and research on the pandemic could be regularly presented in programmes on TV and radio in primetime slots. Debates about issues like school reopenings could happen in public, in
a way where students, teachers, trade unions, the government, parents, people who spend time with kids who are particularly vulnerable to the virus, etc could air their views.

I understand that at some level in government there is a belief that ruling by authority is the best
possible answer to a pandemic from a public health perspective. I understand why they wouldn't want that questioned. But right now their authority is shot. The same goes for the CMO and CSO and deputy CMO, who have all shown themselves to be craven. So a new approach is needed.
It should begin by a commitment to openness. No more cover ups and politicking about how many people have died. All the science the government considers should be on available to the public as they discuss it. All SAGE advice to government should be published as it is given to
government. All correspondence between government and private bodies managing the pandemic (such as SERCO or the new replacement of PHE) should be immediately in the public domain. Journalists should return to a critical function rather than just transmitting messages drip-fed
to them as "exclusives" from Number 10.

The public, throughout, have been keen to suppress this virus. The trouble is they were told the best they could do was to follow orders from the government, which turned out to be often flawed. They were then encouraged to see those
orders as an imposition on their individual lives, rather than a collective work to make everyone in society safe.

The approach to COVID based on authority has been the greatest failure in public health. A new approach is needed now.
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