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Our View: The scientific advisers seem to have misunderstood their role   

Some of the government's scientific advisers during their daily press briefing on coronavirus

How strange that the committee of scientific advisors – the Epidemiological Surveillance Unit – felt obliged to issue a statement on Thursday about the opening of all schools on 21 May, subtly alluding to disagreement with the government’s decision.

While rejecting claims that the scientific advisors disagreed with the opening of the schools, pointing out the committee had recommended the gradual reopening of schools to the ministerial committee dealing with the coronavirus, it let it be understood that the government had deviated from the plan of action.

One of the committee members, Professor Leontios Kostrikkis, made it clear that the government had not followed the committee’s advice. “I was slightly surprised yesterday when I heard it, because the opening of the schools – for younger years – was not on the roadmap which was given by the epidemiological council,” he said on television on Thursday.

Without spelling it out, the committee’s statement made a similar point. When it was asked for its views on the gradual lifting of the restrictions, on 27 April, it had said the reopening of the schools would depend on the epidemiological indicators and the evaluation of the data of countries which had opened their schools, the statement said. This evaluation was scheduled to take place on Saturday, it added.

In short, the government ignored the scientific advisors in taking the decision about opening the schools. Not only would the younger years return to classes, regardless of the road map, but the decision for opening all schools was taken without the government waiting for the advisers to evaluate the data from other countries and issue their recommendations.

The members of the scientific committee seem to have misunderstood their role. They are there to advise the government on how to deal with the virus, but the final say is the government’s, which has to consider other factors in its decision-making, such as the economy and public morale among other things. It has no obligation to follow the  epidemiologists’ road maps and advice to the letter.

In fact, President Anastasiades’ decision to reopen all public schools on May 21, ignoring the epidemiologists’ advice and the objections of the teaching unions, was commendable, because closed schools also affected the economy, with tens of thousands of parents staying at home to look after their children. All restrictions on movement and social gatherings would be lifted on that day so it is perfectly reasonable for all schools to open, even if the scientists have not given full approval.


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