Six Sage scientists awarded OBEs

Professor Calum Semple, of the University of Liverpool, has called for tougher restrictions to tackle

Professor Calum Semple, of the University of Liverpool, has called for tougher restrictions to tackle the UK's surge in infection rates
Professor Calum Semple, of the University of Liverpool, has called for tougher restrictions to tackle the UK’s surge in infection rates
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter
Coronavirus Article Bar with counter

Leading scientists on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) have been rewarded with honours despite the ongoing controversy over the scientific advice that led the UK into lockdown.

Six members of the committee have been awarded OBEs for “services to the Covid-19 response” in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, alongside dozens of health workers and volunteers who have fought the virus on the front line.

Meanwhile, Government officials including England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, and senior officials from Public Health England are understood to have been passed over for honours amid concerns that their handling of the pandemic could be criticised during a future public inquiry.

The six Sage scientists awarded OBEs include Professor Graham Medley, the Government’s chief pandemic modeller, Calum Semple, a professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool who has called for tougher restrictions to tackle rising infection rates, and Dr James Rubin, reader in the psychology of emerging health risks at King’s College London.

The Sage members awarded OBEs
The Sage members awarded OBEs

Sage has been repeatedly criticised over the timing and accuracy of advice offered in the early stages of the pandemic. In July, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt accused the committee of giving the “wrong” advice to the Government and failing to propose a Test and Trace strategy. 

Cabinet Office sources said the Sage members had been rewarded for their “voluntary contribution” to the fight against Covid-19, as well as “vital work in other areas”.

Officials are understood to have screened out nominations for figures who continue to manage the response to coronavirus and whose actions might be seen as controversial, focusing instead on community volunteers, hospital chiefs and frontline healthworkers.

The honours list does not include any scientists from Public Health England, the Government agency widely held to have underperformed during the pandemic, despite four scientists from Public Health Wales being given gongs. 

A nomination for Prof Whitty was discounted at an early stage, it is understood, although insiders stressed that he and other leading figures would be considered for honours once the pandemic is over.

Those who did make the list include Joe Wicks, the Body Coach awarded an MBE for helping the nation keep fit during lockdown. The 35-year-old claimed a Guinness World Record after one of his online fitness classes was watched by nearly one million people, and described the award as a “dream come true”.

Derrick Evans, known as Mr Motivator, has been made an MBE after creating online home exercises during lockdown and hosting a week-long workout to raise money for Age UK’s Emergency Coronavirus Appeal.

The television star said he initially thought he was being “scammed” when told of his honour, adding that it was “wonderful to be acknowledged in this way”.

Derrick Evans, known as Mr Motivator, said it was 'wonderful to be acknowledged in this way' - Ian West/PA
Derrick Evans, known as Mr Motivator, said it was ‘wonderful to be acknowledged in this way’ – Ian West/PA

Dozens of health workers who put their lives at risk to help others during the pandemic have also been recognised with honours.

Lynne Grieves, a registered nurse at Northlea Court care home in Cramlington, Northumberland, moved into the home to look after residents during the lockdown and stayed for 12 weeks.

She has been honoured with a British Empire Medal for services to nursing during Covid-19 and said: “Everybody sacrificed so much, but I just feel it was worth whatever I did sacrifice for such a short time – and if this happened again, I would do the same thing again.”

Ali Ghorbangholi, 29, the co-founder and director of the GoodSAM app, was also appointed OBE for services to volunteering during the virus response.

In March, NHS England approached Mr Ghorbangholi and co-founder Professor Mark Wilson, 46 – also being appointed OBE – to develop a platform that would mobilise volunteers in support of vulnerable shielded people across the country.

After it launched on April 7, around 750,000 people signed up to be volunteers within 48 hours, with 4,000 successful registrations per second at the peak. Mr Ghorbangholi, of west London, said: “I spent most of my time in a dark room staring at a computer screen, so the OBE really means a lot to me.”

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) has been instrumental in the international effort to develop a vaccine, and its chief executive officer, Emma Walmsley, is being made a dame in the list.

Ms Walmsley said: “I’m humbled to receive this honour. It is a real testament to the many outstanding people we have at GSK and the work we do for patients and people here in the UK and around the world.”

A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The independent science and technology committee set a high bar for moving forward with recommendations at this time, and recognising that work in so many areas is ongoing.

“The committee looked for vital, often voluntary, contributions to the pandemic response with frontline impact, alongside extraordinary career-wide contributions.”

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