Jeremy Farrar, one of the most prominent members of the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies, has quit with a warning that the coronavirus crisis is “a long way from over”.
Farrar, who has called for more stringent measures to curb the spread of the virus, stepped down from SAGE at the end of October to focus on his role as the director of the Wellcome Trust.
He told Sky News the research charity’s work – which includes supporting international research on Covid and ensuring the world is better prepared for “inevitable” future infectious disease threats – demanded his full attention.
"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,” he said.
"Throughout this crisis SAGE has provided vital evidence, and independent, expert, transparent advice to support the UK response, often under huge pressure."
Farrar, a biomedical research scientist and former professor of tropical medicine and global health at Oxford University, has been an outspoken member of the advisory group as it has advised the government on its coronavirus response.
In June 2020, he warned Covid was "spreading too fast to lift lockdown in England" before an effective test and trace regime was put in place.
This summer, he revealed that a couple of months after making that comment, he had "seriously considered resigning from SAGE", after the government opted not to introduce a lockdown despite rising Covid infections.
With infections and deaths from the virus rising once again, Farrar has called for the introduction of a "vaccine plus" strategy that includes mandating mask wearing and ventilation in public places, as well as continued testing.
The government has repeatedly turned down calls to introduce its “Plan B” that would put some of these measures in place over winter.
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.”