Health ministers knew there was no evidence to justify making kids abide by rule of 6 – but No10 ‘didn’t want’ to exempt them, Matt Hancock’s leaked Covid messages claim
Ministers knew there was no ‘robust’ evidence to include children in the rule of six, new leaked messages reveal.
Helen Whately, a key figure at the Department of Health at the time, said that she wished under-12s could be exempted from the controversial Covid policy.
Appealing to her boss Matt Hancock to push for a change, she said: ‘It would make such a difference for families and there isn’t robust rationale for it.’
The then-Health Secretary responded: ‘They don’t want to go there on this.’ He then clarified that ‘they’ referred to No10.
The bombshell texts were handed to The Daily Telegraph as part of an investigation called The Lockdown Files.
Responding text messages, Mr Hancock, said Downing Street ‘don’t want to go there on this’, referring to the rule of six implemented in September 2020
In the message sent on October 11, 2020, the minister for adult social care, Helen Whately, said: ‘It would make such a difference to families and there isn’t a robust rationale for it. Now is a really good chance to show we have listened’.
Messages published already show that Sir Chris Whitty recommended testing ‘of all going into care homes’.
But Mr Hancock didn’t follow the guidance, claiming it ‘muddies the waters’.
Ms Whately and Mr Hancock discussed the issue over text, just as No10 was drawing up Covid preparation plans for the winter of 2020/21.
Ms Whately, social care minister, asked Matt Hancock if the rule of six could ‘loosen on children under 12’ in tier one.
In the message sent on October 11, 2020, she said: ‘It would make such a difference to families and there isn’t a robust rationale for it. Now is a really good chance to show we have listened’.
Isabel Oakeshott (pictured above with Mr Hancock), who has described lockdowns as an ‘unmitigated disaster’, said she released the WhatsApp messages because it would take ‘many years’ before the end of the official Covid inquiry. Ms Oakeshott helped Mr Hancock write his book, ‘Pandemic Diaries’ released in December 2022
Mr Hancock said he did not disagree but responded that Downing Street ‘don’t want to go there on this’.
Referencing similar curfew measures, he added: ‘They don’t want to shift an inch.’
The rule was first introduced in September 2020 across England to prohibit social gatherings of more than six people.
In Scotland and Wales such gatherings were also outlawed – but children under 12 were exempt.
Downing Street then implemented stricter versions later in the year during the tier system, and second and third lockdowns in November 2020 and January 2021.
The rule was widely criticised for the impact it may have on children’s mental health.
Critics also warned it prevented some kids from spending time with grandparents and other extended family.
Criticising the original move, Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner, said: ‘Children have fewer health risks from Covid and yet they have suffered disproportionately from the nation’s efforts to contain the virus.
‘Unless the government acts now, Covid is in danger of becoming an inter-generational crisis, with the impact of the economic fall-out on parents determining the future prospects of their children.’
But officials said an age threshold would make enforcement too difficult for police officers.
The messages were leaked by Isobel Oakeshott, the journalist employed as a ghostwriter for Mr Hancock’s pandemic ‘diaries’.
Friends of the politician today said he was considering legal action to prevent the further disclosure of messages he considered ‘stolen’.