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Members of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) turned to the free online encyclopaedia when compiling their reports on possible outcomes of the pandemic. Wikipedia pages can be edited and managed by members of the public. This meant forecasts given to the Prime Minister in mid-March were based on inaccurate data – which could have contributed to a delay in the national lockdown.
A new BBC documentary explores how the experts’ use of the data meant they wrongly predicted the peak of the first wave by two months.
One member of SPI-M, the group which carries out SAGE modelling, admitted they used Wikipedia when compiling reports.
Professor Ian Hall, deputy chair of SPI-M, admitted the use of the online site would come as a shock to Britons.
He claimed the data on the online site was the only relevant information on COVID at the experts’ fingertips at that time.
He said: “The public may be surprised that we were using Wikipedia to get data very early on in the pandemic.
“But that was really the only data that was publicly available that we could access.”
Conservative MP Steve Baker reacted with outrage to the admission.
He told the Mail Online: “Some of those claiming to be ‘following the science’ seem not to understand the meaning of the word.
“SAGE has been put on a pedestal as if they are able to produce a single version of the truth.
“It’s not possible.”
Dr Nick Davies, another member of SPI-M, said the team used outdated figures to make predictions on how the virus was likely to spread.
He said this meant the national lockdown order came later than it should.
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He said the NHS data used was often “up to a week old”.
He added: “That was the first time when I started to feel like things really were not in control.”
The findings of the investigation are explored in the documentary “Lockdown 1.0 – Following the Science?” which will air on BBC Two at 9pm on Thursday.
A Department of Health spokesperson said: “Covid-19 is a novel virus – we drew on the relevant expertise.
“We have been guided by the advice of experts from SAGE and its sub-committees and our response helped to ensure the NHS was not overwhelmed.”
It comes as Britons hoping for a return to normal were offered hope by promising results from vaccine trials conducted by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, Moderna, and Pfizer with BioNTech.
The boss of one of the companies leading the charge for a coronavirus vaccine has expressed hope that there is “a light at the end of the tunnel”.
Albert Bourla, chief executive of pharmaceutical company Pfizer, which has announced results of 95 percent efficacy in its vaccine, said that if vaccination was successful, normal life would return.
He said: “There is light at the end of the tunnel, it’s real. We never believed to have a vaccine of this efficiency so people need to be patient.
“I believe that the second half of 2021 will be a very different experience for a lot of us.
“I think if we will be able to vaccinate, we can go back to normal life.”
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