Matt Hancock says ‘Boris Johnson’s dithering sparked winter lockdown’
The winter lockdown would never have been needed if Boris Johnson had listened to Matt Hancock’s pleas for tougher measures, the former health secretary has claimed.
Mr Hancock claimed he proposed the tough tiers system of restrictions six weeks before it was finally introduced after weeks of ‘dithering’ from the then-prime minister.
Although piecemeal regional restrictions had been used during the summer, the formalised tier system was only introduced on October 12, 2020.
In his diaries, Mr Hancock said that people had their ‘heads in the sand’, including the prime minister, and that the national lockdown, in place from November until the spring, could have been avoided.
Mr Hancock claimed he proposed the tough tiers system of restrictions six weeks before it was finally introduced after weeks of ‘dithering’ from the then-prime minister
He wrote in his diaries on October 12: ‘In the six weeks since I proposed the tiers system, there’s been delay and watering down at every stage – while the virus has grown faster than the worst-case scenario.
‘What’s most frustrating is that I’m being portrayed as the one who’s pushing for lockdown, whereas actually it’s those with their heads in the sand who will lead us to a full-blown national lockdown.’
The tiers system was first proposed at the end of August, according to Mr Hancock’s account, when he said he would ‘get Boris to buy in’.
But his diaries record that the prime minister was still ‘dithering over tiers’ on September 15, just as the first signs that cases were rising appeared.
Ten days later Mr Hancock reported ‘losing the argument’ over tighter restrictions despite the spread of the virus hovering around the Government’s worst-case scenario.
The winter lockdown would never have been needed if Boris Johnson had listened to Matt Hancock ‘s pleas for tougher measures, the former health secretary has claimed
On September 29, the PM agreed to tiers, but by October 5 Mr Johnson had changed his mind again. Mr Hancock wrote: ‘For reasons best known to themselves, No10 is rowing back on tiers.
‘They want tough action, then they don’t want tough action, then someone gets to the PM and he changes his mind all over again. FFS [for f***’s sake].’
The extract portrays Mr Johnson as a leader who was unable to make a decision about tighter restrictions, and whose opinions were swayed by the adviser he spoke to last.
But it also reflected his unease with restricting people’s freedoms, despite rising infection numbers foretelling future deaths.
On September 16, daily cases were 3,760, but by October 5 when the PM wobbled on introducing tiers, they had risen to 14,419.
When the national lockdown was introduced a month later close to 20,000 cases were being recorded every day – a record level at that point in the pandemic, partly caused by the emergence of the more infectious Kent variant.
The easing of restrictions for three weeks in December pushed the numbers to new highs and hailed a return to lockdown in the days before Christmas.
Mr Hancock also cooperated with Professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, to bring in the full national lockdown in November 2020.
Writing in his diary on October 29, he wrote: ‘We’re putting so many new areas into Tier 3 that it’ll soon be a national lockdown in all but name.
‘Had we brought in tougher tiers three weeks ago, as the Prof [Whitty] and I were arguing for, we wouldn’t be in this position.’
The following day Mr Johnson agreed to a national lockdown at a Covid strategy meeting. Mr Hancock wrote afterwards: ‘The upshot is four weeks of lockdown then back to souped-up tiers.
‘Having won the lockdown argument, I was exhausted but elated and literally ran up the stairs to my office, stopping off to see the Prof, who’d fought hard alongside me via Zoom.
‘Secretary of State, you’ve saved many lives with what you’ve done today,’ he replied.
‘Thankfully, at the press conference the PM gave it his all, warning of thousands of deaths a day if we don’t do more.’
He added that the UK had ‘avoided a complete collapse in the NHS and those Lombardy scenes in our hospitals. For now at least’.
On November 1 he recalled that ‘Boris was still far from reconciled to the lockdown he’d so grudgingly authorised, continuing to fret that we’d be accused of ‘blinking too soon’.
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