The rules are only for other people apparently. Neil Ferguson is the most high-profile face of the UK government’s scientific advisory group (SAGE). Ferguson is the epidemiologist behind the Imperial College London modelling which convinced Boris Johnson that pursing a herd immunity strategy would cost far too many lives. Instead, on March 23rd Johnson ordered a lock down based largely on the Imperial College research. But today Ferguson resigned his position with SAGE after the Telegraph reported he violated the lock-down order by having his girlfriend visit his home:
The scientist whose advice prompted Boris Johnson to lock down Britain resigned from his Government advisory position on Tuesday night as The Telegraph can reveal he broke social distancing rules to meet his married lover.
Professor Neil Ferguson allowed the woman to visit him at home during the lockdown while lecturing the public on the need for strict social distancing in order to reduce the spread of coronavirus. The woman lives with her husband and their children in another house.
The BBC reports that Ferguson had become known as “Professor Lockdown” in the UK but today he admitted he made a mistake:
In a statement, Prof 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 (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies).
“I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms.
“I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing.”
It does sound as if no harm was done here. He’d had the virus and the woman in question is in an “open marriage.” But that’s really beside the point. If you are literally the face of the lockdown message for an entire nation, you can’t allow yourself special privileges even as the government is telling everyone else, on your advice, to stay isolated.
BREAKING: Govt's top science expert Professor Neil Ferguson resigns after flouting his own social distancing lockdown rules to be with married lover.
Unbelievable & shocking scoop by the Telegraph's @AVMikhailova >>>>https://t.co/Ja1m52qcSN pic.twitter.com/FEc88ztRBi
— Piers Morgan (@piersmorgan) May 5, 2020
This story really can be summed up in a meme:
— Helen Dale (@_HelenDale) May 5, 2020
It’s still an open question whether the lockdown will result in a lower death toll over the long term. That depends on a lot of things we don’t know including how soon we’re able to create a working vaccine. But Neil Ferguson was in many ways the polar opposite of Sweden’s Anders Tegnell, the man who advocated a less draconian (but still substantial) response in his own country.
I don’t think it’s clear the evidence support’s Tegnell’s view either as Sweden does have a much higher death toll at this point than Norway, Finland and Denmark combined. And, to his credit, Tegnell himself doesn’t seem confident he’s taken the right path, though he obviously hopes it works out that way. Asked recently if he made the right not instituting a lockdown, Tegnell replied, “I’m not convinced at all.” But it has to be said that one of the things Tegnell has argued for the past several weeks is that the Swedish model is more realistic in the long term precisely because it’s hard for people to abide the strict isolation of lockdown orders for more than a few weeks. If nothing else, Neil Ferguson’s actions prove Tegnell was right about that.
The longer this goes on the harder it is going to be for everyone to not cheat and break the rules. In a sense, we’re creating a black market for socializing. That black market, like many other black markets, could turn out to be harmful to many people, but that doesn’t mean it will stop.