Word of the week: NERVTAG

    1 January 2021


    The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG). A body that advises SAGE, who then advise the government on the immediate threat posed by Covid-19.

    Incorrectly known as:

    National Energy Redirected Via All-encompassing Terror Graphs

    Nearly Every Review Verifies Additional Tier Geographies

    Naughty Epidemiologists Researching Very Assiduously Tougher Governing

    Previous names that had been suggested, but were rejected:

    Public Research Into Epidemiological Spread of Terror (PRIEST)

    Department In Charge Through A Thorough Ownership Re: Sensational Health Information Production (DICTATORSHIP)

    Less catchy acronyms included:

    National Research Unit for Permanent Lockdown (NHUPL)

    Public Health Information For Endless Health Crisis (PHIFEHC)

    Graphs for Terror Broadcast (GTB)

    Panic Unit (PU)

    NERVTAG came to public prominence when they announced the discovery of a mutant strain of the Covid virus in December. The group were previously unknown, except to members of SAGE and public health officials. They have emerged as central to government policy making. Who are they and what do they do?

    What is the difference between NERVTAG and SAGE?

    SAGE includes a range of people – from behavioural psychologists to public health mandarins – that advise and execute government policy on Covid. SAGE are responsible for the lockdown policies that have proved so successful in containing the virus over the past 10 months. NERVTAG analyses the data – what the is virus doing and what is it likely to do next. From the plethora of statistics available to them, they carefully select the data that justifies the lockdown policies advocated by SAGE.

    Who is in NERVTAG?

    Professor Neil Ferguson is NERVTAG’s most famous member. It may be true that Ferguson was sacked from SAGE in May, was ridiculed for his prediction of half a million Covid deaths and had his computer code described by one software engineer as “a buggy mess that looks more like a bowl of angel hair pasta than a finely tuned piece of programming”. However, Ferguson has proved invaluable to Matt Hancock, the Minister of Health. Without Ferguson’s endless production of colourful upward curves Hancock and his SAGE colleagues’ would not have been able to promote their state of perpetual crisis.

    What does NERVTAG do?

    NERVTAG produce carefully worded reports, that utilise linguistic, as well as scientific skills. Each report is carefully worded to ensure that NERVTAG will not be held responsible for their analysis in any future enquiry, whilst simultaneously generating hysterical news reports, in the present. Their recent report successfully spawned the headline “Mutant Strain Is Out-of-Control”, which was deemed preferable to the more considered “These viruses change, it’s quite common and nothing to be overly concerned about” as it created the public panic necessary for more restrictions. Although there are over 10,000 strains of Covid-19, NERVTAG stated that one new strain both “demonstrates a substantial increase in transmissibility” while also “transmitting in the same way, so there isn’t anything different that we need to do to avoid transmission”.

    What’s next for NERVTAG?

    Unfortunately, NERVTAG only has one spreadsheet, and this spreadsheet is only designed for Covid numbers. This means that they are unable to compute the health, economic, financial or social impacts of lockdown policies. Some may say that this is the responsibility of the government. However, as long as Matt Hancock remains Health Minister, Michal Gove still thinks he’s a mini God and Boris Johnson maintains the untenable belief that he is more than an actor searching for a script, current policy will carry on until the end. NERVTAG will be asked to provide statistics to justify each iteration of home imprisonment throughout 2021.

    People may be growing wearily sceptical, but NERVTAG will stay one step ahead of the game. In December, we had the ‘mutant virus’, next up Covid-20.