Coronavirus: Nobel Prize scientist attacks Welsh and UK virus response

By Felicity Evans
Political editor, Wales

  • Published
Sir Martin EvansImage source, Cardiff University
Image caption,
Sir Martin Evans is a former chancellor of Cardiff University

A Nobel Prize-winning scientist has accused the Welsh and UK governments of a "dereliction of duty" for failing to make better use of domestic assistance to address testing and kit shortages.

Sir Martin Evans said every resource should be mustered against coronavirus.

But instead he claimed "they're not using our own resources at all" and said a Cardiff University offer to help has had no reply.

The Welsh Government said the university is involved.

Cardiff University said Sir Martin was expressing personal opinions that "in no way" reflect its views.

BBC Wales also approached the UK government for comment.

Both governments have struggled to meet targets for testing they have set themselves, and have faced challenges with personal protective equipment (PPE).

Sir Martin, who was chancellor of Cardiff University for eight years, said he was aware the institution and others have offered help to the Welsh Government.

But he said they "have not been accepted so far" because of the approach of Public Health Wales and Public Health England.

"I'm very concerned that this approach is one of petty bureaucracy, pettifogging, [and] form filling," he said.

"We are, in my opinion, in a war type situation. People are dying.

"We have an invisible enemy sweeping the country. We need to use every resource we can muster against it and yet our government, our governments I should say, are not doing this."

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
PPE is proving a challenge across the UK

"They are trying to buy equipment from abroad, trying to buy PPE from abroad, trying to buy testing from abroad," Sir Martin said.

"They're not using our own resources at all and I think this is a dereliction of duty."

Sir Martin won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2007 alongside two colleagues for their work in using stem cells to modify genes in mice. He was chancellor of Cardiff University for eight years, stepping down from the ceremonial role in 2017.

He said he wrote to the first minister and Health Minister Vaughan Gething about his concerns and has received no response, other than an acknowledgement of receipt of his letter.

A letter from the vice-chancellor of Cardiff University to the Welsh Government offering help has had no response either, he said.

'Surprised'

On Tuesday, Mr Gething said Wales had sufficient stock of PPE to last for a "few days".

A target of 5,000 tests per day in Wales was abandoned earlier this week. Mr Gething has said Wales does not need so many tests with the lockdown reducing infections.

A Welsh Government spokesman said: "We are surprised to hear Professor Evans' comments, particularly as Cardiff University is testing PPE equipment for us as well as advising on PPE testing, reprocessing materials and standards. They are also supporting our cyber security work linked to coronavirus.

"On testing they recently supplied a large amount of chemical reagents and support operational delivery. Academics from the university also provide scientific advice and work on our Covid-19 testing programme.

"They are also playing a leading role in the convalescent plasma programme, which is trialling new ways of treating Covid-19 patients.

"We thank them for their ongoing and important support."

'Extremely challenging time'

Cardiff University said in a statement: "These are the personal views of Professor Sir Martin Evans. They in no way reflect the views of Cardiff University.

"We have written to the Welsh Government offering our unreserved support, recognising that this is an extremely challenging time.

"We remain in contact with Welsh Government and Public Health Wales officials and will help in any way we can."