'Like the work of a primary school child': Presenter tears into MP over 'incorrect' coronavirus deaths chart

Emily Cleary
·4 min read
Nick Ferrari challenged MP Nadhim Zahawi on the government's decision to quietly alter data that had been presented in Saturday's press conference (LBC.co.uk)
Nick Ferrari challenged MP Nadhim Zahawi on the government's decision to quietly alter data that had been presented in Saturday's press conference (LBC.co.uk)

Radio presenter Nick Ferrari has accused the government of presenting work like that of “a primary schoolchild” after charts showing projected death rates from coronavirus proved to be incorrect.

Top-end projections shown in a Downing Street press conference suggesting that daily hospital admissions in England could reach nearly 9,000 by early December, while daily deaths could hit 1,400, have both now been revised downwards.

Ferrari told Nadhim Zahawi: “Two of the key advisers that Boris Johnson takes a lot of advice from presented figures that were wrong and have now been downgraded.

“This is like the work of a primary school child.

“What are you using? Abacuses?”

The disclosure came after Tory MPs, led by former prime minister Theresa May, strongly criticised the way the government used data to justify a second national lockdown in England.

The revised forecast predicts around 1,000 deaths a day by 8 December, the same level as at the peak of the pandemic in April, not worse, as was suggested.

Defending the government, Zahawi said: “The models are models and we are very clear, those are different models by different groups who are looking at that.

“The people in hospital has gone from 2,600 a month ago to over 12,000 this month.

At a press conference on Saturday the government presented this slide with 'worst case scenario' predicted death rates if no measures were taken to curb the spread of oronavirus. This data has now been changed. (Gov.uk)
At a press conference on Saturday the government presented a slide with 'worst case scenario' predicted death rates if no measures were taken to curb the spread of coronavirus. The data was later changed. (Gov.uk)

“There are some parts of the NHS in England where people are now getting to a stage where not enough ventilator beds may be available, which is why we’ve had to make the intervention we’ve had to make.”

Zahawi said he didn't feel public confidence had been damaged by the change to the graphs but added: "We can always strive to do better."

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 21: A journalist attempts to interview Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi as he leaves the cabinet office on October 21, 2019 in London, England. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is pressing Parliament for a "straight up-and-down vote" on his Brexit deal, after he was forced to ask the European Union for a new delay of the Brexit deadline. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi was forced to defend the government on LBC radio on Friday after presenter Nick Ferrari accused them of enforcing lockdown based on incorrect data (Peter Summers/Getty Images)

"The more data we share, the more scrutiny there is - that is a good thing in a democracy," he said.

"Not if it's wrong," Ferrari hit back.

In response to the information relayed by the government and its advisers, the official statistics watchdog (UKSA) issued a warning on Thursday to ministers and government advisers over the use of coronavirus data in ways which can “confuse” the public.

UKSA said there was a danger that confidence in official figures will be undermined if they are issued without “appropriate explanations of context and sources”.

Appearing before MPs on Tuesday, the government’s chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance expressed “regret” if the figures – representing one “reasonable worst case scenario” – had caused alarm.

A ambulance arrives at the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the Excel Centre in London as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/John Sibley
NHS Nightingale Hospitals across the UK have been put on standby as the government predicts a rise in hospital admissions due to coronavirus (REUTERS/John Sibley)

The second graph altered showed hospital admissions.

Saturday's press conference suggested daily hospital admissions could reach 9,000 in early December, but that has been cut to 6,000 in the amended slides.

In a statement, the UKSA said: “It is important that data are shared in a way that promotes transparency and clarity. It should be published in a clear and accessible form with appropriate explanations of context and sources.

“It should be made available to all at the time the information is referenced publicly.”

The UKSA said that “full transparency” was needed.

“It is clear that those working on the pandemic face significant pressures,” it added. “But full transparency is vital to public understanding and public confidence in statistics and those who use them.”

A government spokesman told Yahoo News UK: “Our approach throughout this unprecedented global pandemic has been to increase transparency around the government’s response to coronavirus.

“We continue to work hard to improve the data we publish where necessary, and our efforts and statistical reporting has been recognised by the UK Statistics Authority, which said ‘there is a continual process of improvement’.”

The government said the amendment had taken place “after an error was found” in the ranges for the projections.

“This does not affect the insights that can be taken from these analysis,” it added.

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