Science Minister George Freeman’s comments on Monday came after the latest leak of the former health secretary’s WhatsApp messages showed he pushed back against scientific advice to reduce the Covid self isolation period from 14 to five or seven days because it would imply the Government have “been getting it wrong”.
The Government’s handling of the pandemic has come under intense scrutiny as the Daily Telegraph has published a series of stories based on a trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages handed over by Mr Hancock to the journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
According to messages released over the weekend, Mr Hancock and others discussed how to use the Kent variant of the virus in December 2020 to scare the public so they would obey Covid rules.
In an exchange with one of his advisers who suggested “rolling the pitch” with the Kent variant, Mr Hancock said: “We frighten the pants of everyone with the new strain.”
The new variant was publicly identified on December 14 and five days later former prime minister Boris Johnson announced that families would no longer be able to meet for Christmas.
Asked about Mr Hancock’s texts on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Mr Freeman said: “Yes, it’s a very silly phrase.”
Mr Freeman also raised questions over Mr Hancock’s response to advice from Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty to reduce the self isolation period from 14 days to five days in November 2020.
Sir Chris said his fellow CMOs and the Sage advisory committee were in favour of a pilot which would move to testing for five days in lieu of isolation.
Mr Hancock reportedly replied: “That sounds like a massive loosening.” He added: “I think moving to seven-day daily testing for contacts would be huge for adherence, but going below that would seriously worry people and imply we’d been getting it wrong.”
Asked about the messages, Mr Freeman said: “Well, if that is the whole story, that is obviously no way to make policy.”