SAGE adviser Neil Ferguson quits over coronavirus lockdown breach

Epidemiologist says he regrets "undermining of the clear messages" on social distancing

Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire/PA Images

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the top scientists advising the government on its response to the coronavirus crisis, has resigned after breaching lockdown rules.

Ferguson said he had “made an error of judgement” but allowing someone living in a separate household to visit his home on two occasions.

The epidemiologist said he would resign from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies last night, after the Telegraph revealed he had breached the social distancing regulations.


Ferguson leads a team of scientists at Imperial College London whose produced computer-modelled research informed the government’s response to Covid-19.

He had just finished a two-week period of isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 and said he had “acted in the belief that [he] was immune” as a result of having contracted the disease.

The revelation came after government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs yesterday that immunity was not guaranteed for those who had recovered from the virus.

Vallance told the Health and Social Care Committee that there was evidence people who have had coronavirus develop antibodies are likely to provide “some degree of protection from immunity”. But he added: “We don’t know that it provides absolute immunity and it almost certainly doesn’t.”

In a statement to the Telegraph, Ferguson said: "I accept I made an error of judgement and took the wrong course of action.

"I have therefore stepped back from my involvement in SAGE… I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing."

He said the “unequivocal” social-distancing advice was intended "to protect all of us".

Ferguson’s apology echoed one issued by Catherine Calderwood, who resigned as Scotland’s chief medical officer last month after breaching lockdown regulations by visiting her second home.

After she was pictured at a second property, Calderwood said: "I did not follow the advice I am giving to others. I'm truly sorry for that.”

The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said Ferguson's actions had left him “speechless" and that it would not have been possible for the scientist to stay on as an adviser.

“Professor Ferguson is a very, very eminent and impressive scientist and the science he’s done has been an important part of what we’ve listened to, and I think he took the right decision to resign,” he told Sky News.

He added that the lockdown regulations were “for everyone" and were "deadly serious".

He said he would support any action by police in response to Ferguson’s breach, Hancock said: “I back the police here. They will take their decisions independently from ministers… so I give them their space to make that decision, but I think he took the right decision to resign.”

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