What do Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages show? That’s not what the Telegraph wants us to see. Devi Sridhar

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TeaThe Telegraph’s front page on Wednesday is devoted to a huge trove of WhatsApp messages from former health secretary Matt Hancock, leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott to avoid, in her words, a Covid “whitewash”.

The resulting stories will be drip-fed over the next few days, but we’ve already learned a lot from the exchanges. Both Oakeshott and the Telegraph were lockdown-skeptics, and it seems the leaked messages would vindicate that approach. But what we’ve seen so far confirms what was already clear to those on the front row of the UK government’s handling of COVID-19: what public health experts and scientific advisers are recommending and did the UK government actually do – even if ministers claimed to be “following the science”.

This is exemplified by the exchange from April 2020, in which Hancock responds to recommendations from Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, that anyone visiting a care home should be tested for Covid. Hancock pushes back, saying to a colleague that this approach “muddies the waters”, and instead opts to test only those arriving from hospital – while publicly building a “protective ring” around care homes Claims to throw (Hancock has said that these messages were taken out of context, and that he insisted on following Whitty’s advice, but that at a meeting earlier that day it was logically possible to test all There was not.) There were more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths in care homes in England and Wales in two waves of infections during 2020.

When debating how best to respond to the pandemic, my public health colleagues and I were inspired by looking at the latest data, analyzing it and presenting detailed advice to ministers. In contrast, Hancock’s messages on the trial imply that he was motivated more by publicity, and what would please him – the phrase “muddy the waters” refers to the notion of a policy, rather than how it would work.

‘mass test’ [seen here in September 2020] Lockdown was the best initial route to avoid and suppress COVID-19, but the message got lost in the ministers’ binary “shutdown or nothing” approach. Photograph: Phil Noble / Reuters

Secondly, during the severe COVID testing backlog in September 2020, the messages show Hancock personally arranged for Jacob Rees-Mogg to have a test kit for one of his children, then sent directly to the laboratory for processing. This fits with the pattern we see from Partygate that one rule for the ruling elite (ie “me first”) and the other for the British public, who had to deal with an overwhelmed NHS, access to testing and medical care Delayed access and repeated lockdown measures. The Tory government’s approach to caring for its friends contrasts with the vision of Abraham Lincoln earlier when he said “‘Government of the people, by the people, for the people'”. It is clear that we did not have a government acting for the wider benefit of the British public during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The third is that given the chaotic manner in which testing and closing was discussed and implemented, little planning or preparation was done to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic before the end of March 2020. What was suggested was advice – it was not acted upon. The Minister for Social Care, Helen Whatley, warned Hancock on 8 April 2020 that “lessons learned internationally suggest we should be testing all care home residents and staff who have had Covid contact”, of symptoms. regardless, to which Hancock initially agreed. But he was back on it by 14 April, and routine testing in care homes for those without symptoms did not begin until early July.

Meanwhile, other countries have been preparing for months by improving their diagnostics (such as South Korea in January 2020), or planning alternative venues such as stadiums and libraries to safely relocate schools, to limit the shutdown. (eg Denmark, in February 2020). The former prime minister, Boris Johnson, initially wanted to let it rip through the country (reported remark “let the bodies pile up”), and because this was Plan A, made no preparations for what would happen if Covid-19 How to press Without emergency lockdown measures. This meant the UK took “the worst route”, as I told Krishnan Guru-Murthy on Channel 4 News about the repeated lockdowns and the economic pain and high number of deaths. In April 2020, I Tweeted: “At what point will the British public realize what has happened over the last 9 weeks?”

Mass testing was the best initial way to avoid a lockdown and suppress COVID-19, but the message got lost in the ministers’ binary “shutdown or nothing” approach. This was not a consensus in the scientific community. The lockdown was a late and chaotic emergency button, implemented due to lack of preparation. Delaying infections in 2020 made sense given the rapid progress being made on vaccines and antivirals — and the fact that every infection was pushed into the post-vaccine era, which meant that survival rates would drop dramatically. will increase substantially.

Whatever the Telegraph’s intention, these WhatsApp messages show the British public what has been clear to most of the world and the scientists advising them during the pandemic. By acting too late, and then by its conduct during the pandemic, the government has let us down during arguably the greatest crisis of our generation. Many people died before their time. Many health workers worked in unsafe and hazardous conditions. The repeated lockdowns destroyed financial stability for small and medium-sized businesses. Schools in the UK have been closed for too long because preparations were not made on how to keep them open safely. The scientists bore the brunt of the abuse and anger from the major losers. Ministers and their friends made their own rules and made money in times of crisis. And Matt Hancock launched a lucrative media career on the back of it all.

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