Matt Hancock revealed that Rishi Sunak urged Boris Johnson to avoid implementing additional Covid limitations during the fall of 2020, causing significant strain. This message was recently made public as part of the pandemic investigation.
In a message sent on WhatsApp to cabinet secretary Simon Case, the former health secretary inquired about a meeting on October 30 that he stated he was unable to attend.
“Despite the ridiculous regulations, Rishi is currently in the room. This puts immense pressure on the PM to once again not take enough action,” stated Hancock in the communication. This message may be used as evidence for when Sunak is questioned during the inquiry.
The response from Case, who was not present at the meeting, implied that Sunak, the former chancellor, preferred stricter regulations for schools over shutting down all retail stores.
Case, who has not yet testified at the inquiry, suggested focusing efforts on secondary schools (known for being a transmission hotspot) rather than closing all shops (which have not shown to be a source of transmission).
The prime minister’s spokesperson stated that Sunak declined to comment on the allegations because he did not want to provide incomplete evidence to the inquiry.
During his second appearance at the inquiry, Hancock was asked about the WhatsApp messages. He maintained his belief that implementing a lockdown earlier would have prevented a rise in cases. The closing of schools in January 2021 was a significant concern due to fears of overwhelming the NHS.
Hancock informed the investigation that upon further consideration and in retrospect, he believed that had they taken action earlier, in September of 2020, they could have potentially avoided the closure of schools in January due to the high number of cases.
He also mentioned that he had extensively considered the decision to release hospital patients into care homes during the initial stages of the pandemic, but no one had presented a different solution that could have prevented more fatalities.
In regards to the decision, he stated that each choice presented difficult options. However, he contended that keeping patients in the hospital would have increased their chances of contracting Covid due to the potential for nosocomial infection.
He stated that it was logical and practical to ensure that they were in the most secure location possible. He also mentioned that he was not aware of a resolution to the issue of releasing patients that would have ultimately led to more lives being saved.
Hancock also criticized Nicola Sturgeon for occasionally exiting meetings with the UK government and devolved administrations before their completion, and revealing pandemic measures to the public earlier than previously agreed upon.
At times, Hancock stated that she would use methods of communication that were not beneficial and caused confusion for the public. He also maintained that he had a positive working relationship with his counterparts in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
Nevertheless, conflicts between the London administration and other areas were demonstrated through WhatsApp conversations from Hancock in July 2020 regarding regulations enforced by the UK government. These regulations required individuals returning from Spain to quarantine for 14 days in order to contain the spread of the virus.
Prior to this, Hancock was informed that Number 10 desired to convey the issue “as soon as possible”. In response, he stated: “I share the same urgency. The information will inevitably become public – and the Scottish authorities will likely attempt to make their announcement before us.”
Hancock briefly mentioned breaking his own rule during the pandemic with an aide, resulting in his resignation. He admitted that his involvement with Gina Coladangelo had a negative impact on the public’s trust in Covid regulations.
Hugo Keith KC, the counsel for the inquiry, addressed Hancock and expressed his belief that the revelation of footage showing the minister kissing his aide caused significant offense and distress. He then inquired whether Hancock believed it had an impact on the public’s willingness to follow Covid rules.
Hancock responded, “The lesson for the future is evident. It is crucial that those who create rules follow them, and I stepped down to take responsibility for my failure to do so.”