(p. A4) Britain’s top civil servant warned in October 2020 that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was a “nationally distrusted” figure who should not announce new social-distancing rules in the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.
The health secretary at the time, Matt Hancock, disparaged an eminent medical researcher who had publicly criticized Britain’s handling of Covid as a “complete loudmouth.” Mr. Hancock also mocked “Eat Out to Help Out,” a program to lure people back to restaurants sponsored by Rishi Sunak, referring to it as “eat out to help the virus get about.”
Those and many other unfiltered remarks are in more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages exchanged among Mr. Hancock, other ministers and aides as they tried to control the coronavirus outbreak in 2020 and 2021. They were handed to The Daily Telegraph, a British newspaper, by Isabel Oakeshott, a journalist who obtained them while helping Mr. Hancock write a book, “Pandemic Diaries,” about those desperate days.
. . .
“What I found shocking was the callous nature of the messages — the banter, the humor, and how casual they were about making decisions that affected people and their lives,” said Prof. Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh.
. . .
Amid the pervasive sense of dread in the texts, there were also moments of gallows humor. Mr. Hancock once asked Michael Gove, a fellow minister, to explain the goals of a coming government meeting on the pandemic.
“Letting people express concerns in a therapeutic environment before you and I decide the policy,” Mr. Gove wrote.
“You are glorious,” Mr. Hancock replied.
For the full story, see:
Mark Landler. “Juicy Nuggets, but No Surprises About U.K. Covid Policy.” The New York Times (Monday, March 8, 2023): A4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 7, 2023, and has the title “Ex-Minister’s Texts Lift the Veil on U.K. Covid Policy. It Isn’t Pretty.”)