COVID deaths reach record high as Sage adviser warns government is 'divided against itself'

Jimmy Nsubuga
·3-min read
Medical personnel and ambulances outside the Royal London Hospital, in London, during England's third national lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Picture date: Wednesday January 20, 2021. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
The UK reported a record number of daily deaths for the second time in a week. (Getty)

A Sage adviser has accused the government of being “divided against itself” as the UK reported a record number of daily deaths for the second time in a week.

On Wednesday, another 1,820 people died within 28 days of a positive coronavirus test, surpassing the previous peak of 1,610 deaths set on Tuesday, government data showed.

There were also 38,905 new COVID-19 cases recorded on Wednesday, an increase from the 33,355 recorded the previous day.

Stephen Reicher, a member of the Sage subcommittee advising on behavioural science, blamed the worrying numbers on the lack of cohesion in the Conservative Party.

Watch: Coronavirus in numbers as UK deaths reach record high

Reicher tweeted: “On 'lockdown' they are divided, so decisions are delayed and fudged.

“On schools they are divided, so decisions are constantly changed. Now, it seems, they are also divided on borders and so here too, chaos reigns.

“A party, divided against itself…”

Reicher pointed to home secretary Priti Patel’s claim that she had disagreed with colleagues about borders remaining open in the early stages of the pandemic.

The MP told Tory supporters she had argued for the UK border to be shut to international visitors in March, in comments first reported by political website Guido Fawkes.

The comments, made to the Conservative Friends of India group, contradict her public defence of the government’s decision not to enact a full arrivals shutdown.

Patel said: “On ‘should we have closed our borders earlier’, the answer is yes. I was an advocate of closing them last March.”

On Wednesday, Boris Johnson was quizzed at Prime Minister’s Questions by Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over why he chose to “overrule” the home secretary.

But the Tory leader evaded the question, instead opting to criticise Labour’s own policy on border controls.

Johnson has also previously faced open opposition from some Tory MPs to the government’s COVID restrictions during the pandemic.

When the three-tier system was reimposed in December, 53 Conservatives voted against, the biggest rebellion Johnson has faced as prime minister.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 18: British Home Secretary Priti Patel speaks to the media outside St Thomas' Hospital on January 18, 2021 in London, England. Last week, Ms Patel said that Home Office engineers were working to restore more than 400,000 police records that were accidentally deleted from a national database. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Home Secretary Priti Patel said she wanted borders shut last March. (Getty)

Dr Zubaida Haque, a member of Independent Sage – a separate body not connected to the government – blamed the record number of COVID deaths on the delay in going into lockdown last month.

She tweeted: “This is the tragic but inevitable consequence of Boris Johnson NOT going into a national lockdown *before* Christmas? The PM's indecision has cost lives.”

Campaigner Dr Julia Grace Patterson also slammed the government for not bringing in tighter restrictions sooner, adding: “1820 heartbreaking COVID-19 deaths today, all because the government did not listen to experts in October, November, December

“They ‘saved Christmas’ instead of saving lives.

“I am angry; 1820 families are grieving today because experts were wilfully ignored by the UK government.”

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Last week Starmer accused the PM of “sitting on his hands” for 17 days as coronavirus ripped through the country.

The Labour leader said this indecision had been costly, with 17,000 people having died from COVID since Johnson declared at the last PMQs of 2020 on 16 December that there had been a significant reduction in the virus.

Starmer asked the PM how he had “got it so wrong and why was he so slow to act” to announce a third national lockdown.

Johnson told Sky News that Wednesday's record COVID deaths are "appalling" and the death toll is likely to keep rising in the next few weeks because of the spread of a new, more infectious variant of the virus.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown