Health DG slams advisory ministerial committee member who said lockdown laws were ‘unscientific’

Acting director general of health has criticised a ministerial advisory committee (MAC) member over lockdown regulations remarks. Acting director general of health has criticised a ministerial advisory committee (MAC) member over lockdown regulations remarks.
Image: Thapelo Morebudi / The Sunday Times

Acting director general of health, Dr Anban Pillay, has criticised ministerial advisory committee (MAC) member Professor Glenda Gray for labelling government’s risk adjusted strategy “unscientific.”

This follows on an interview which Gray did with News24 in which she complained that the MAC was not part of the decision to gradually ease the country’s lockdown.

The chairperson of the MAC, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, called for a meeting with the committee which was scheduled to get underway at 7pm this evening.

On the agenda which Times Live has seen, is an item which reads “concerns expressed to the media by MAC members that the MACs advice is not being heeded.” The discussion at the meeting will be led by Gray and fellow MAC member Professor Ian Sanne.

But Pillay told the Sunday Times earlier on Saturday that Gray’s comments were surprising given that implementation was not within the MAC’s jurisdiction.

“Professor Gray is a professor in infectious diseases, paediatrics and vaccinology, but not in implementation of a lockdown and easing of lockdowns. In fact there is no expert on this in the world because we are all learning.

“This is a disease that came to us five months ago. Every country is trying to find the right way, there is no gospel or blueprint by which we can use as the standard,” Pillay said.

“But also government has a responsibility to actually implement this and take accountability when it goes wrong. So we can’t simply say, ‘Professor Gray tell us what to do and we will do it’. Then we would be abdicating our responsibility because if we don’t believe in a particular approach, then surely we must take an approach that we can account for.

“And if we are wrong then we must take responsibility for it but you can’t simply say because you are an expert, you are telling us what to do and we should follow it. Because at the end of the day she is not accountable, she is just an advisor. It is government that is accountable, it is the president and the minister who will account to the country.”

Pillay also emphasized that while the committee was made up of leaders in their fields, their mandate was to advise the minister who would then decide whether or not to agree or disagree with the advice. Pillay said that up to 90% of the committee’s recommendations had been adopted almost verbatim.

“They have not made any specific recommendation around timelines for easing of the lockdown. I think the president has already announced that the lockdown is being eased or phased out as we would call it. We are moving to a differential risk adjusted model of alert levels. So I don’t see any dispute between us about that issue. So what surprises me about Professor Gray’s comments and others is they are talking about things in their personal capacity and not any recommendation that the panel itself has made regarding how long we should take to move from one level to another.”

Pillay emphasized that the work of the MAC was largely based on empirical evidence in the absence of proven facts about the new virus, especially with regard to the lockdown.

“To be quite frank with you, there is no science about that anyway so you cannot talk about that as being a scientific process. It is a process that should be based on what is most practical and implementable. There are no research studies to say this is how long we will be at this level before we move to a different level. Every country is doing its best based on their own circumstances. That is what government’s role is, to implement policies in a manner that is coherent and aligned to many factors,” he said.

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