Scotland’s Indian-origin COVID adviser reveals face mask threat

A prominent Indian-origin public health expert who advises the Scotland government on its COVID-19 pandemic measures has revealed the level of threats she has had to face over the course of the country’s lockdowns.

Devi Sridhar, professor of global public health at Edinburgh University who is on the Scottish government’s coronavirus advisory board, told ‘The Times’ newspaper this weekend that she was sent white powder and a used face mask in the post last year.

“I was extremely shaken and it was probably the hardest part because it was in my real life, not virtual or online,” said Sridhar, who often appears on UK radio and television as an expert commentator on the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have thought often about withdrawing but it feels like, for better or worse, my job now also has a public dimension. Hopefully it’s helpful to have scientists out there explaining things for most people,” she said.

Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the “horrendous abuse” – both online and otherwise – targeted at the expert, praising Sridhar as a “hugely important and valuable” adviser to the government.

The white powder delivered to Sridhar turned out to be a hoax but has made the expert question the safety of scientists who address public health crises in future.

Sridhar, whose work before COVID-19 incorporated the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa and the Middle East respiratory syndrome, MERS, is among those who made the right predictions in March 2020 – when she warned that the vulnerable would die without widespread testing and the UK would fluctuate in and out of lockdown for 18 months.

The scientist has now combined her views into ‘Preventable’, a book to be published on Thursday, which analyses the way different countries responded to the crisis in an easy-to-digest 432 pages that charts her own journey through the pandemic.

“I think there was a much closer working relationship between scientists and the government in Scotland. I do think they were trying to get it right in terms of opening up with caution,” she reflects.

In her new book, the 37-year-old gives an overview of how other countries responded to COVID-19 and is optimistic about the next pandemic.
“I think that we can do it better next time. No country did it perfectly. We can learn from each other,” she notes.

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