- Prof Sridhar was an advocate of ‘zero Covid’ but now admits she was wrong
The influential public health scientist who advised former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that it was possible to eliminate Covid now admits that she made ‘a mistake’.
Professor Devi Sridhar was a vocal advocate of ‘zero Covid’, the controversial view that it was possible to eradicate the virus by adopting draconian measures such as quarantining people when crossing the Scottish border.
The Covid Inquiry heard last week that Prof Sridhar regularly sent the then First Minister messages on Twitter where she appeared to push for the strategy to be adopted. In one, sent in June 2020, she told Sturgeon that she had been working on a ‘feasible plan for elimination [of the virus]’.
Sturgeon would later describe elimination as the ‘only sensible strategy’ to tackle the virus.
The revelation will likely cause further controversy after the inquiry heard last week that Sturgeon also told Prof Sridhar not to ‘worry about protocol’.
BACKTRACK: In 2020, Prof Sridhar blamed the Westminster Government for not doing enough to stop the spread of Covid
The influential public health scientist who advised former Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that it was possible to eliminate Covid now admits that she made ‘a mistake’
Prof Sridhar now claims she regrets using the phrase ‘zero Covid’ and that her aim was to limit the number of infections in Scotland until the vaccine rollout.
‘This was a mistake I made using the word ‘elimination’,’ she told the Covid Inquiry, adding that ‘maximum suppression’ would have been a more appropriate phrase.
Other experts who spoke at the inquiry said that the Scottish Government’s refusal to accept that Covid was ‘here to stay’ led to a much slower release of social restrictions than was necessary. Throughout the pandemic, Scotland eased restrictions several weeks after England.
Professor Mark Woolhouse, an epidemiologist at the University of Edinburgh and a UK scientific adviser during the pandemic, said Scottish Ministers were preoccupied with appearing more cautious than their English counterparts. He added: ‘This segued into this idea that… we could somehow end up in zero Covid. To me… this was not consistent with the evidence.’
In June 2020, when Scotland was recording fewer than five Covid cases every day, Prof Sridhar, originally from the US, published an article in The Guardian calling for a ‘zero-coronavirus Britain’. That same month, she told New Scientist magazine that ‘Scotland could eliminate coronavirus if it were not for England’, arguing that Westminster was not doing enough to stop the spread of the virus.
However, in January 2022 – 17 months later – Scotland was recording roughly 8,000 daily cases and Nicola Sturgeon announced the nation would remove the majority of its Covid restrictions in an effort to live with the virus.
No country has been able to eliminate the virus.
Prof Sridhar now claims she regrets using the phrase ‘zero Covid’ and that her aim was to limit the number of infections in Scotland until the vaccine rollout
Speaking on Tuesday, Prof Sridhar claimed she never believed that zero Covid could be achieved and instead likened it to aspirational public health campaigns that sought to end malaria or tuberculosis. ‘We use these campaigns to say we don’t accept the spread of these diseases,’ she said. ‘[In summer 2020] we had a chance to hold and wait for a vaccine in an optimal position.’
However, experts accused her of ‘rewriting history’.
‘Prof Sridhar now claims she never believed in zero Covid, but all you have to do is go back and read her articles to see that’s not the case,’ says Professor Robert Dingwall, sociologist at Nottingham Trent University and former Government scientific adviser.
‘Then she argued that Covid could be eliminated if not for the wicked English. Every scientist who knew what they were talking about said zero Covid wasn’t achievable.’
Prof Sridhar declined to comment last night.