To Cabinet Ministers of HM Government

For whatever reason, the government is holding its cards too close to its chest and is failing to trust the public by offering up sufficient clarity about risks and transparency on its thinking on the key Covid-19 questions; so the government’s overall strategy is insufficiently understood and trusted, particularly when changes in data, which inevitably continue to happen, lead to changes of approach.

Government communications seem to avoid telling people where risks are low or correcting over-estimation of the risk. There is reluctance to speak openly about how risks are being assessed and the trade-offs being made with other risks and economic impacts. The key questions aren’t being articulated; much of the information to answer these questions, if the government has it, isn’t being publicised. Current hypotheses as to what the answers are aren’t being shared transparently enough with the public.

It is also not clear to people what the government is doing to acquire the information it doesn’t have, or how and when it expects to have answers. The lack of communication and transparency leads to lack of clarity about what progress the nation is making and what people can trust and do safely.

As many of us strive to help the public navigate risks we are experiencing acutely the need for higher quality, open and mature communications from government in order for society and individuals to manage this next phase. This would overcome the haphazard conclusions that people are only able to draw when they see car showrooms open but not schools or talk of getting the economy moving but not getting employees back to workplaces. Everyone needs to understand what government is trying to do and the relative significance of anything we individually can do – and how new information may alter that.

Transparency about the conclusions drawn from evidence would also help government to face the challenges of the coming months with a shared understanding across its own bodies, and with the organisations it relies on to implement policies, such as regulators, local authorities and trade bodies, as well as research groups who could address the gaps and the need for uniform data collection.
The following is an invitation to the government to share its reasoning, for a better conversation with the country about how to continue controlling the virus and resume economic and social activity.

Tracey Brown, director, Sense about Science; Carl Heneghan, professor of Evidence-Based Medicine & director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine, University of Oxford; Graham Loomes, professor of behavioural science, University of Warwick