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Weekly update: House of Commons Science and Technology Committee

17 July 2020

In our weekly update we aim to summarise the work of the Committee over the last week.

This week (the week commencing 13 July)

We held our twelfth public evidence session on Thursday 16 July as part of our UK Science, Research and Technology Capability and Influence in Global Disease Outbreaks inquiry. We held a wide-ranging session looking at different aspects of science advice to Government and the latest developments in the scientific evidence on COVID-19.

We took evidence from Sir Patrick Vallance the Government Chief Scientific Adviser.

We asked a range of questions, including questions relating to: 

  • Lessons learned so far from the UK's response to COVID-19;

  • The role of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) and how its advice has been used by the Government;

  • The latest scientific evidence relating to the immune response, how the virus spreads and face masks;

  • Preparations for winter and a so-called second wave;

  • Testing—including their accuracy and the capacity needed; and

  • Developments in treatments and vaccines and UK contribution to scientific work in this area.

You can watch the session back on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript.

You can also catch up with our previous evidence sessions as part of this inquiry: 

  • Our session on 25 March focussed on: i) the basis of the UK Government's interventions; ii) vaccines and diagnostics, including testing; and iii) science advice to Government. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website. 

  • Our session on 8 April focussed on the UK's approach to testing during the ongoing pandemic and what we can learn from other countries. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website. 

  • Our session on 16 April focussed on the effectiveness and longevity of social distancing measures in the UK, the implications for the public and international strategies for relaxing social distancing measures. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 24 April focussed on the four UK national responses to COVID-19. We took evidence from all the UK Chief Medical Officers on scientific advice, policy co-ordination, testing, vaccination and non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 28 April focussed on two options for easing lockdown measures: testing for antibodies and digital contact tracing. We sought to assess the function and viability of these options, and the timescales in which they could be introduced. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 7 May focussed on metrics for managing the pandemic, including the significance of the reproduction value, or ‘R', and the effect of different approaches to measure ‘R'. We also looked at international comparisons, including how differences in recording and population might contribute to variations in international death rates. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 13 May focused on the role of departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) and heard from CSAs. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 22 May focused on the reasons behind Public Health England's centralised approach to testing and its advice relating to re-opening schools in England. We also examined the scientific evidence behind the risk of infection in different workplace environments, as well as measures for reducing that risk. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 5 June focused on the economics of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, exploring its impact on health and approaches to easing social distancing measures. We also explored the evidence used by the Government in informing its recovery strategy, funding for research and development, and the role of the science, technology and innovation sector in supporting economic recovery. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 10 June explored the reliability and accuracy of epidemiological models used by the Government in informing policy and public health advice in the current pandemic. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

  • Our session on 1 July focused on the progress made to date on the development of vaccines and treatments in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the work of the UK Government Taskforces on vaccines and therapeutics. Re-watch the session on parliamentlive.tv, or read the transcript on our website.

Commenting after our evidence session, our Chair, Rt Hon. Greg Clark MP, said:

“I must reiterate how grateful the Committee is for the tireless work of Sir Patrick and the scientific community over the course of the pandemic. The evidence we heard was enlightening and will be extremely useful in informing the outcome of our inquiry. I look forward to further probing some of the topics we discussed yesterday with the Secretary of State on Tuesday.
“Our objective is not to cast blame, but to understand how, why and when decisions were taken. In this way, we can learn lessons that better inform the UK Government, so that should a second wave of coronavirus—or another disease—occur, we will be better prepared.” 

Science and Technology Committee in the media

On Thursday evening, the Chair appeared on Newsnight to discuss the evidence heard in our session with Sir Patrick Vallance. 
 
The session was covered in many of Friday's newspapers, including The Times, which focused on the possibility of a second wave of COVID-19, The Independent, which discussed the Government Chief Scientific Adviser's advice on working from home, and The Telegraph, which reported on the advice given to Government regarding the date of lockdown.

Next steps

We are meeting twice next week:

Published written evidence and correspondence

This week we agreed to publish two letters:

Further information

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