We can see in the United States right now the dangers of having a populist  president running the country during a serious pandemic. Incredibly 90% of Republicans trust the president to give them accurate information about the outbreak. A president who first called the pandemic a Democrat hoax, and then said it was under control and now wants to end social distancing to celebrate Easter. Some of those people will be paying with their lives for this misplaced trust, but by the nature of pandemics plenty of those who are not Republicans will also share this fate.
The UK also has a populist government. Johnson and his cabinet are where they are now because they championed a cause that pitted the elite and experts, who thought being part of the EU brought benefits to the UK, against the ‘people’ who thought otherwise. But superficially it appears that with this pandemic these populists are taking note of experts. They are following the science, we are repeatedly told.
But what science have they been following? The World Health Organisation (WHO) provided detailed information in February about what was happening in China, and their advice was test and socially isolate. Western countries were all far too slow to follow that advice, but the UK stands out because it tried to follow a different policy. The government no longer likes the name, but herd immunity was the government’s initial response to COVID-19. That is why it seemed content to allow large gatherings, even those involving fans from a Spanish city that was already in partial lock down, to go ahead. So why did the UK go for herd immunity when the experts in the WHO and who advise other countries gave very different advice?
What detailed discussions were going on in the group advising ministers (SAGE) we will not know until an inquiry is held, but it seems highly unlikely that they were unanimous in presenting “the science”. The UK’s chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, has said “If you think SAGE is a cosy consensus of agreeing, you're very wrong indeed”. According to one report: