Chris Whitty ‘warned ministers against enforcing hated sex ban during Covid pandemic’ because ‘people aren’t likely to listen’, Matt Hancock’s leaked WhatsApps reveal
- Boris Johnson told Brits to stay at home and avoid contact with other households
- Sir Chris Whitty advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during pandemic
- But Brits told to stay apart or ‘test the strength of their relationship’ and move in
Sir Chris Whitty advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic, leaked WhatsApp messages revealed today.
Under the original Covid lockdown imposed on March 23 2020, Boris Johnson told Brits to stay at home and avoid contact with people living in other households.
The rules, in reality, amounted to a sex ban for all couples living separately because they were not allowed to meet up indoors.
Sir Chris, England’s chief medical officer, was asked to clarify the expert advice by the then-PM’s spokesman the next day after being inundated by journalists wanting answers to the ‘biggest Q of the day’.
Sir Chris Whitty (left) advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic, leaked WhatsApp messages revealed today. Yet a different message was presented at a press conference that same day, when Jenny Harries, Sir Chris’ deputy, said couples should ‘ideally’ should stay in their own households if they don’t live together — or ‘test the strength of their relationship’ and move in together. The then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock (right) added: ‘There you go: make your choice and stick with it’
Sir Chris, England’s chief medical officer, was asked to clarify the expert advice by the then-PM’s spokesman the next day after being inundated by journalists wanting answers to the ‘biggest Q of the day’. Texts unearthed today reveal Sir Chris said: ‘I think a bit of realism will be needed.’ He added: ‘If it’s a regular partner I don’t think people are likely to listen to advice not to see them for three weeks or maybe more. ‘We could say; if they can avoid seeing one another they should, and if either of them has an older or vulnerable person in the house they must’
The tranche of more than 100,000 WhatsApps were passed to The Daily Telegraph by the journalist Isabel Oakeshott (right), who was given the material by Matt Hancock (left) when they were working together on his book Pandemic Diaries
Texts unearthed today reveal Sir Chris said: ‘I think a bit of realism will be needed.’
He added: ‘If it’s a regular partner I don’t think people are likely to listen to advice not to see them for three weeks or maybe more.
‘We could say; if they can avoid seeing one another they should, and if either of them has an older or vulnerable person in the house they must.’
Patrick Vallance, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, had said: ‘[The] aim is to break contacts between households so the strict answer is that they shouldn’t meet or should bunker down in the same house.’
‘But Chris can give the official CMO love advice,’ he added.
Yet a different message was presented at a press conference that same day, when Jenny Harries, Sir Chris’ deputy, said couples should ‘ideally’ should stay in their own households if they don’t live together — or ‘test the strength of their relationship’ and move in together.
‘What we do not want is people switching in and out of households. It defeats the purpose of reductions in social interactions and will allow the transmission of disease,’ she said.
The then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock added: ‘There you go: make your choice and stick with it.’
The so-called ‘bonking ban’ lasted until June 13, at which point two separate households could form ‘bubbles’ — meaning they do not need to remain socially distanced.
It only applied if one household was someone living alone, or a single parent living with children.
In one of the most high-profile rule breaches of the pandemic, Professor Neil Fergusson, a SAGE scientist, had invited his married mistress Antonia Staats to his home at least twice in May 2020 when the rules were in place.
In a resignation statement, the academic, who was married with a son but is believed to have been separated from his wife at the time, admitted he had ‘made an error of judgement’ but claimed he thought he was ‘immune’ to the illness.
Professor Fergusson admitted his rule breach was the ‘wrong thing to do’.
MailOnline has not seen or independently verified the WhatsApp messages, leaked to The Daily Telegraph by Isabel Oakeshott, the journalist who helped Mr Hancock write his book Pandemic Diaries.
Professor Neil Ferguson (left) asked his mistress Antonia Staats (right) to travel across London to his home at least twice during the peak of the outbreak, it was revealed at the beginning of May
Other newly released messages show Mr Hancock was told by advisers 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.
The MP replied: ‘I CALLED FOR THIS TWO MONTHS AGO. This is a Hancock triumph!’
Exchanges on WhatsApp also reveal that Mr Hancock rejected advice from Sir Chris that Covid self-isolation should be slashed over concerns it would ‘imply we’ve been getting it wrong’.
Messages from November 2020 show England’s Chief Medical Officer thought it would be ‘pretty well as good’ for close contacts 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’.
A spokesperson for Matt Hancock said: ‘These messages in fact show Mr Hancock was in favour of protecting the public and saving lives.
‘That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
‘Throughout the pandemic Mr Hancock acted to save lives — as the independent inquiry will show.
‘We should wait for that to ensure we get a proper understanding of what happened, not be misled by these biased accounts based on an anti-lockdown agenda and partial evidence.’
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
- Sir Chris advised ministers not to enforce the sex ban during the pandemic