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How Neil Ferguson, the architect of lockdown, was brought down by failing to obey his own rules

Government's leading epidemiology adviser set out advice that led to UK restrictions in research paper submitted on March 16

Professor Neil Ferguson self-isolated at his London home after developing coronavirus symptoms
Professor Neil Ferguson self-isolated at his London home after developing coronavirus symptoms Credit: PA

With a warm weather front promising to bake Britain over the Easter Bank Holiday, Government ministers blitzed the media with the clearest of warnings: "Stay home. Protect the NHS. Save Lives."

Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, was fighting for his life in hospital as the Queen stepped in to rally the nation with a speech thanking Britons for staying at home to protect the vulnerable. 

"Many will feel a painful sense of separation from their loved ones, but we know deep down that it is the right thing to do," Her Majesty said.

2020欧洲杯网站The coronavirus death toll and hospital admissions were rising and the economy nose-diving in what was seen as an acceptable cost in the battle to flatten the curve of the infection rate.

The science behind the decision to lock down Britain had been set out in a research paper submitted by Professor Neil Ferguson, the Government's leading epidemiology adviser, on March 16. 

He and his team of computer modellers at Imperial College London's school of public health had predicted that more than 500,000 people would die2020欧洲杯网站 from coronavirus if no action was taken, or half that figure if the Government continued with its strategy at that stage.   

But while the  public was enduring the lockdown restrictions prompted by Prof Ferguson's advice, The Telegraph can now reveal2020欧洲杯网站 that he was flouting the rules to see his married lover. 

The academic, who had been in and out of Number 10 and meetings across Government departments, was struck down with symptoms of coronavirus two days after delivering his research paper. 

On March 18, he announced on BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he was self-isolating in his London flat. "I've been in so many meetings in the last few weeks," he said. "We think there's infectiousness for about a day before symptoms – and I was actually in a Downing Street press conference… 

2020欧洲杯网站"The more serious point is it kind of highlights the need for the response which has been enacted."

2020欧洲杯网站The news sparked an outpouring of support for "Professor Lockdown", as he would come to be known, including a tweet from Nigella Lawson telling him to rest. He tweeted daily from his home about his recovery and thanked the public for their support. 

Soon he was back to warning people, again though Twitter, about new developments in the science from his team at Imperial College. It was not good news. "Our latest estimates suggest that the virus is slightly more transmissible than we previously thought," he tweeted on March 26. 

2020欧洲杯网站Yet four days later the professor was feeling well enough to break his own advice to the public and allow his girlfriend, Antonia Staats, to cross London for a visit. The following week she made a second visit to Prof Ferguson's flat, despite telling friends she suspected that her husband had coronavirus symptoms.

There is no suggestion Ms Staats visited him during the period he was self-isolating with the virus. But to some, the tryst shows a staggering hypocrisy and wilful flaunting of lockdown laws. 

2020欧洲杯网站Prof Ferguson sat on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), which has played a central role in advising the Government throughout the pandemic, as well as the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), which advises Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.

Only six days earlier, during the daily Downing Street conference on March 24, Dr Harries had responded to a question that went to the heart of the matter – whether couples living apart could socialise.

"If the two halves of a couple are currently in separate households, ideally they should stay in those households," Dr Harries replied, calling on couples to "test the strength of their relationship" and move in together if they wanted to see each other. 

The Government did not want "people switching in and out of households – it defeats the purpose of the reduction in social interaction, and will allow transmission of disease".

If that was not clear enough, Mr Hancock added: "There you go. Make your choice and stick with it."

Prof Ferguson's relationship with Ms Staats is hardly conventional. She is understood to be in an open marriage with her husband, an academic. The couple live in a £1.9 million house in south London with their two children. 

Ms Staats has told friends she does not believe their actions to be hypocritical because she considers the households to be one.

According to a friend, Prof Ferguson has met her husband and they share an interest in data science. The 51-year-old epidemiologist is married with a son but it is understood that he and his wife live apart. He is said to have met Ms Staats through the online dating site OkCupid more than a year ago.

Ms Staats, 38, grew up in Isny, south Germany, went to university in Berlin and came to London in 2003 to obtain a masters in Asian Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies, where her husband works.

2020欧洲杯网站She is a senior campaigner at Avaaz, a global online activist network which has been praised by Gordon Brown, Tom Watson, Martin Schulz, the president of the European Parliament, and Al Gore. She delivered a petition to Downing Street that called for an end fossil fuel subsidies to Downing Street during the coalition government and has campaigned against Brexit.

2020欧洲杯网站In 2017, Ms Staats was pictured protesting outside Parliament next to puppets of Theresa May and Rupert Murdoch while holding a banner that read: "Stop Murdoch pulling the strings."

2020欧洲杯网站Prof Ferguson is a regular guest on the BBC Today programme. Ms Staats told friends she was at his home on the morning of March 30, when he appeared in the 7.50am slot.

2020欧洲杯网站Over the next eight days he continued to appear on the programme, and on April 4 told listeners: "Clearly we want to move to a situation where, at least by the end of May, we can substitute less intensive measures for the current lockdown we have now... I don't think anyone wants to lift measures at the current time and risk the epidemic getting worse."

Yet on April 8 Ms Staats was once again at his flat. The contradiction in what he said in public and did in private did not seem to bother the professor, for on April 10, again speaking on the Today programme, he said: "We clearly don't want these measures to continue any longer than is absolutely necessary. 

2020欧洲杯网站"I mean, the economic costs, social costs, personal and health costs are huge, but we do want to find a set out policies which maintain the suppression of transmission of this virus."

On Tuesday night, Prof Ferguson admitted he had made an "error of judgment" and resigned from his Sage role. 

He said he "acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus and completely isolated myself for almost two weeks after developing symptoms", adding: "I deeply regret any undermining of the clear messages around the continued need for social distancing to control this devastating epidemic.

"The Government guidance is unequivocal, and is there to protect all of us."      

But with millions of couples spending their seventh week in separation, news of Professor Lockdown's trysts will be a bitter pill to swallow.