Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages: What he said v Covid context | corona virus

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With many people’s memories hazy due to lockdowns and enforced distancing, and a relatively rare sight, it can be difficult to see the revelations of the multitude of Covid-era government messages in the context of the time in which they were made. Was sent.

Below are five stories of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages sent by Matt Hancock to journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who handed them over to the Daily Telegraph, and a reminder of where Britain was medically and politically amid the progress of the pandemic.

Testing in Care Homes – 14 April 2020

Message: Hancock appears to be going against the advice of the chief medical officer for England, Prof Chris Whitty, the health secretary at the time, to test everyone visiting care homes for Covid. Hancock, supported by current health minister Helen Whatley, has insisted that this was a partial picture, missing important counter-evidence.

Status at that time: The UK was at the peak of the first wave of Covid, with no vaccine yet in sight and the Office for Budget Responsibility predicted a possible 35% reduction in GDP. Testing was ramped up from a slow start with only 75,000 lab-based PCR tests being conducted in the last seven days. However, the country still lacked immediate lateral flow tests, which allowed for large-scale, routine testing later in the pandemic. A total of 1,254 Covid deaths were recorded in the UK, with evidence emerging that a significant number were in care homes.

Target of 100,000 tests a day – 28 April 2020

Message: Desperate to meet his self-imposed target of 100,000 tests a day by the end of the month, Hancock asked Tory chancellor George Osborne, editor of the Evening Standard, to seek “sides” of a one-page story about the next test. messaged to do. Day. Osborne agreed in exchange for “certain terms”.

Status at that time: You can see why Hancock wanted some positive news. With the total number of Covid deaths in England nearing 20,000, the health secretary faced pressure at a nightly government press conference about up to a quarter of the total death toll in care homes, and whether she had There was negligence in not testing people.

Face masks in schools – 25 August 2020

Message: The decision on whether secondary school students in England should wear masks for the next academic year is over after Scotland has already ruled that pupils there must. Whitty advised Johnson in a message that there were no solid reasons for or against it and concluded: “It is therefore not worth arguing.”

Rishi Sunak puts an ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ sticker in the window of a business during a visit to Rothesay on the Isle of Bute, Scotland. Photograph: Jeff J. Mitchell / PA

Status at that time: It was a respite period between waves, including in August the then-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s “Eat to Help Out” subsidy scheme to boost hospitality businesses – although later evidence suggested this may have encouraged infections. Giving also helped. For now, though, case levels were low, with 22 Covid deaths recorded across the UK. Much attention was being focused on a knock-on pandemic effect: the debacle over A-level marking in England, which had brought about the resignation of the head of the examinations regulator, Oqual.

Relaxation of lockdown rules for children – 11 October 2020

Message: Helen Whatley asked whether the “rule of six” limit on gatherings in some areas could be amended to exclude young children, saying that there was not a “strong argument” for this. Hancock told her from Downing Street “I don’t want to go there on this”.

Status at that time: Both recorded cases and deaths were down after the lull of the summer – there were 128 Covid-related deaths across the UK that day – but it was the foothills of a new wave that peaked at Christmas and January. Boris Johnson, then prime minister, was consulting with ministers on a new system of regional “tiers”, allowing different levels of restrictions depending on the number of cases.

Hancock and Gavin Williamson spar over schools – 28 December 2020

Message: With the UK in another lockdown, Hancock was complaining to an aide about the way Williamson, the Education Secretary, was “going absolutely gangbusters” to allow schools to reopen after Christmas, which Hancock opposed. Had been.

Status at that time: The country was speeding toward another peak wave of recorded infections, which less than a week later would topple the daily record of nearly 200,000. Later in January it recorded 1,328 daily deaths, again the highest ever recorded. Shortly before Christmas, Johnson was forced to suddenly tighten restrictions due to the emergence of a more contagious variant of Covid, B117, later named the alpha variant.

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