COVID-19: Sir Jeremy Farrar quits SAGE advisory group amid 'concerning' coronavirus transmission rate in the UK

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One of Britain's top scientists has quit the government's pandemic advisory body, warning the COVID crisis is "a long way from over" and that the situation in the UK is "concerning".

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, quit the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) at the end of October.

Sky News can reveal that Sir Jeremy is advocating for a "vaccine plus" strategy to curb the high levels of transmission seen in the UK.

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His plan calls for more mask wearing, ventilation and continued coronavirus testing to get the nation through what some experts predict will be a difficult winter.

The government has so far declined to take this route and has not yet adopted a COVID Plan B - tougher measures designed to curb the spread of the virus and protect the NHS.

According to a government spokesperson, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been "clear" the data does not currently back up the need for Plan B.

Watch: How would Plan B tackle rising coronavirus cases - and when could it come into force?

Nevertheless, in a statement to Sky News Sir Jeremy revealed the "huge pressure" that SAGE came under during the pandemic.

Experts have previously suggested that ministers have pushed back against scientific advice in a bid to prevent long-term damage to the UK economy, making the job of advisers difficult.

He said: "The COVID-19 crisis is a long way from over, with the global situation deeply troubling.

"The high levels of transmission seen in the UK remain concerning, but I stepped down as a participant of SAGE knowing ministers had been provided with most of the key science advice needed over the winter months.

"Throughout this crisis SAGE has provided vital evidence, and independent, expert, transparent advice to support the UK response, often under huge pressure."

He added: "My focus now must be on our work at Wellcome. This includes supporting the international research effort to end the pandemic, ensuring the world is better prepared for inevitable future infectious disease threats, and making the case so the full potential of science is realised to inform and drive change against all the urgent health threats we face globally."

In July of this year, Sir Jeremy said he "seriously considered resigning from SAGE" nearly a year before, after the government chose not to introduce a lockdown in September 2020.

Today, the government has updated the list of SAGE and SAGE sub group participants but Sir Jeremy remains on the list.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "To lose a heavy weight figure like Sir Jeremy from SAGE is a serious blow that reveals the level of concern about the government's mishandling of the pandemic.

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"While complacent ministers bury their heads in the sand, the vaccination programme continues to stutter and stall, and their failure to fix sick pay or provide ventilation support is allowing the virus to spread."

A government spokesperson said: "Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and thanks to our collective national effort we have saved lives, vaccinated tens of millions of people and protected our NHS.

"We knew the coming months would be challenging - this is exactly why we set out our COVID Plan for autumn and winter. We are monitoring all the data closely, and the prime minister has been clear that it does not yet show that Plan B is necessary. But it is ready should we need to act to avoid a rise in hospitalisations which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS.

"Our focus remains on our booster campaign, vaccinating 12-15 year olds, and encouraging those who haven't yet come forward to have their jab."

Watch: 'Absolutely gutted': Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tests positive for COVID-19

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