PHE faces legal action for ‘hiding’ Indian variant stats

PHE is facing accusations that it caved under political pressure.

4 Jun 2021| News

Public Health England (PHE), has been warned that it will face legal action if it does not publish data on the extent of the spread of the Indian variant of Covid-19 in schools.

Claims have been made that the government agency was pressured by the Prime Minister into hiding the statistics, which were supposed to be made public on 13 May.

In a pre-action letter seen by the Independent, the Citizens advocacy group and data rights firm, AWO, warned PHE that it would be acting “unlawfully” if it “surrendered its independent judgment” under political pressure.

Clara Maguire, Executive Director of the Citizens, said: “It defies belief that Public Health England is refusing to publish this vital public health data on the spread of the so-called Indian variant in schools despite scientists, teachers, parents and unions all saying that they need it to safeguard theirs and their children’s health.”

Jon Richard, Head of Education and Local Government for Unison, said in a statement: “Pupils, their parents and staff in schools deserve to know if they are being put at risk by any new Covid variant – so the government holding back this information raises suspicion that they have something to hide.”

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist Queen Mary University London, said: “We know from media reports there are many outbreaks of the so-called ‘India variant’ in schools but there’s no systematic data”

She added: “In Bolton, it’s risen fastest in school-age children and it looks like schools are contributing to the rapid spread of the virus … and yet at this crucial moment, the government has gone ahead and lifted mitigations. It’s incredibly worrying.”

A spokesperson for PHE claimed the data would be released once the agency was confident it was accurate and robust.