Matt Hancock rejected chief medic Chris Whitty’s calls to ease isolation rules because he feared it would show ministers had been ‘getting it wrong’
- Sir Chris Whitty suggested isolation could be cut from two weeks to five days
- But Matt Hancock warned approach would ‘imply we’d been getting it wrong’
Matt Hancock rejected advice from Sir Chris Whitty that Covid self-isolation should be slashed over concerns it would ‘imply we’ve been getting it wrong’.
Leaked WhatsApp exchanges from November 2020 show England’s Chief Medical Officer thought it would be ‘pretty well as good’ for close contact of positive cases to test for five days rather than staying at home for two weeks.
But the former Health Secretary warned the approach was a ‘massive loosening’ of the rules that would ‘seriously worry people’ and ‘imply we’d been getting it wrong’.
The messages, the latest to be published by The Telegraph, also reveal that the MP for West Suffolk was determined to spin the rollout of Covid jabs as a ‘Hancock triumph’.
WhatsApp exchanges from November 2020 show that England’s Chief Medical Officer (left) thought testing for five days to be ‘as good’ as two weeks of staying at home. But the former Health Secretary (right) warned the approach was a ‘massive loosening’ of the rules that would ‘seriously worry people’ and ‘imply we’d been getting it wrong’
The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by former Health Secretary Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries
On November 17 2020, Mr Hancock asked Sir Chris about the status of ‘test to release plans’.
At this point, people with confirmed or suspected Covid only had to isolate for 10 days but close contacts had faced a 14-day quarantine.
There was also a legal duty to quarantine and those who broke the rules could be fined £1,000 — increasing to £10,000 for repeat offenders.
Sir Chris said that the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) and SAGE, a group of scientists that advised No10, backed daily Covid tests for five days instead of isolating among close contacts.
He suggested that it would need to be piloted initially to ‘check it works’ and noted that the UK’s medicines watchdog had not yet approved Covid tests for self use.
Matt Hancock ‘fought to be front and centre of vaccine rollout, feared he’d be overshadowed by Alok Sharma as Pfizer jab was approved and rejected cutting 14-day ‘pingdemic’ isolation period as early as November 2020 to save face’, leaked WhatsApps reveal
Mr Hancock was determined to be seen as ‘Mr vaccine’ and placed himself at the forefront of media coverage, even appearing to break down on Good Morning Britain
But Mr Hancock replied: ‘So test every day for just 5 days? That sounds like a massive loosening’.
Sir Chris said: ‘The modelling suggests it’s pretty well as good [as isolating for two weeks]. And we think adherence likely to be good.’
The former Health Secretary said he was ‘amazed’. ‘This sounds very risky and we can’t go backwards — wouldn’t test every day for ten days be a safer starting point,’ he said.
Sir Chris said: ‘We could push out to 7 but the benefits really flatten off after 5. We would expect symptomatic people to get a pcr test as normal.’
Mr Hancock questioned whether the two week isolation advice had been ‘too long all this time’.
The policy drove down cases by around four per cent compared to 10-day isolation but ‘almost certainly at the expense of reduced adherence’, Sir Chris said.
Data from SAGE at the time suggested just one in five people fully complied with the self-isolation rules.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I think moving to 7-day daily testing for contacts would be HUGE for adherence, but going below that would serious worry people and imply we’d been getting it wrong.
‘Presumably we can explain some of the shorter period because the test would pick up the disease before symptoms’.
Sir Chris said he would feed this back to the other CMOs who he thought would ‘be sympathetic to this’.
The Government reduced self-isolation to 10 days on December 14, four weeks after the exchanges between the two men.
A statement from the UK’s CMOs confirming the rule change said: ‘After reviewing the evidence, we are now confident that we can reduce the number of days that contacts self-isolate from 14 days to 10.’
By summer 2021, the policy developed into the use of the NHS Test and Trace app, which alerted people if they had been in close contact with a positive case and told them to self-isolate for up to 10 days.
But the resultant ‘pingdemic’ saw up to around 600,000 people isolate per week, with the app being so sensitive that people were being needlessly ‘pinged’ through their walls if their neighbour was infected.
Sir Chris said that the UK’s Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) and SAGE, a group of scientists that advised No10, backed daily Covid tests for five days instead of isolating among close contacts. He suggested that it would need to be piloted initially to ‘check it works’ and noted that the UK’s medicines watchdog had not yet approved Covid tests for self use. But Mr Hancock replied: ‘So test every day for just 5 days? That sounds like a massive loosening’
Parts of the country ground to a halt and ministers were forced to release key workers from quarantine to keep the NHS, transport and food supply services functioning.
A daily testing pilot had been launched in May 2021, which saw those taking part allowed to take a daily test for seven days rather than isolating. However, this did not apply to people contacted via the NHS app.
By August 2021, children and double-jabbed Brits no longer had to isolate if they were a close contact. However, they were advised to take a PCR test and had to quarantine for 10 days if they tested positive.
Self-isolation was finally ditched in February 2022, by which point more than 20million Brits had been told to stay at home, according to The Telegraph.
MailOnline has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, leaked to The Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who helped Mr Hancock write his book Pandemic Diaries.
Other newly-released messages show Mr Hancock was told by advisors that the public would ‘forgive’ him for being supportive of lockdowns if he could claim vaccines as his success, leading the MP to try to be the face of the campaign.
Mr Hancock’s media special adviser Damon Poole sent Mr Hancock a link to a Daily Mail article in January 2021 which reported that the jab rollout was accelerating.
He MP replied: ‘I CALLED FOR THIS TWO MONTHS AGO. This is a Hancock triumph!’
KEY CLAIMS OF THE LOCKDOWN FILES INVESTIGATION
A fresh cache of 100,000 text and WhatsApp messages leaked to the Daily Telegraph by the ex-journalist who ghost-wrote Hancock’s Pandemic Diaries claimed:
- Matt Hancock rejected the Chief Medical Officer’s call to test all residents going into English care homes for Covid
- A minister in Mr Hancock’s department said restrictions on visitors to care homes were ‘inhumane’, but residents remained isolated many months on
- Mr Hancock’s adviser arranged for a personal test to be couriered for Jacob Rees-Mogg’s child at a time of national shortage
- Mr Hancock told former chancellor George Osborne, then editor of the Evening Standard, ‘I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!’ as he pushed for favourable front-page coverage
- Mr Hancock allegedly met his 100,000-tests-a-day target by counting kits that were despatched before the deadline but might never be processed
- Social care minister Helen Whately told Mr Hancock the testing system was ‘definitely working’ after she managed to secure a test ‘just’ 50 miles from where she lived.
- Mr Osborne warned Mr Hancock that ‘no one thinks testing is going well’ in late 2020
- The then prime minister, Boris Johnson, revealed he was going ‘quietly crackers’ about the UK’s shortage of test kits
- Face masks were introduced in school hallways and communal areas after the PM was told it would avoid an ‘argument’ with Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon
- Matt Hancock took ‘rearguard’ action to close schools after former education secretary Sir Gavin Williamson persuaded the PM to keep them open in January 2021
- Sir Gavin said teachers were looking for an ‘excuse’ not to work during the pandemic
- Ministers said there was ‘no robust rationale’ for imposing the ‘rule of six’ on children, but did it anyway
- Pupils with false positive results on a lateral flow test had to isolate at home for ten days, even when they tested negative on a PCR, to avoid ‘unpicking’ the policy
- The PM feared that he ‘blinked too soon’ in plunging the UK into a second Covid lockdown after being warned that gloomy modelling which bounced him into the move was ‘very wrong’
- Mr Johnson was eager to ease curbs on retail, hospitality and gatherings in June 2020 but was told he was ‘too far ahead of public opinion’
- Mr Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case joked about travellers ‘locked up’ in quarantine hotels during Covid lockdown
- The minister said the Government should ‘get heavy with the police’ to help crack down on Covid lockdown rulebreakers
- Mr Hancock’s team asked if they could ‘lock up’ Nigel Farage after he posted a video of himself in a pub when they suspected he was in breach of rules
- • The former Health Secretary hoped the pandemic would ‘propel’ his career ‘into the next league’ and said he thought he ‘looked great’ in a picture in a MailOnline article
- Mr Hancock referred to Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme as ‘eat out to help the virus get about’ and lobbied officials not to extend the scheme
- • Mr Hancock clashed with the Treasury, calling Steve Barclay, now the Health Secretary, a ‘w***er’ and accused Mr Sunak of ‘showing ankle to the hard right’ by warning of a second national lockdown
- In the hours after his affair with married aide Gina Coladangelo became public, he said the worst they could be accused of was kissing ‘before they legalised hugs’
- Ministers sought to remove NHS England boss Lord Stevens just says after Covid was first detected, saying it would be a ‘massive improvement’
- Mr Hancock plotted to have ‘worse than useless’ and ‘complete loudmouth’ Sir Jeremy Farrar, who is now the WHO’s top scientist, sacked from SAGE
- Mr Hancock planned when to ‘deploy’ the news of a new Covid variant to ‘frighten the pants off’ the public so they complied with lockdown rules
- The former Health Secretary branded the Government’s vaccine tsar Dame Kate Bingham ‘totally unreliable’ and ‘wacky’ after she said only the vulnerable needed to be vaccinated against Covid
- Mr Hancock wanted to be the face of the vaccine rollout, planning to do media rounds and ‘own’ the news of the Covid jabs
- Mr Hancock attempted to hide that he’d take Ms Coladangelo to a dinner with the US health secretary
Source: Read Full Article