Matt Hancock slammed by Robinson for ‘poor judgement’
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Leaked messages show Boris Johnson was left baffled after being schooled on percentages by Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and special adviser Dominic Cummings. The back-and-forth unfolded on a WhatsApp chat between the then Prime Minister and senior officials in charge of Government policy during the pandemic. Mr Johnson initially misread the figures, believing that just one in every 2,000 people infected with coronavirus was dying.
Looking at figures published in the Financial Times, Mr Johnson thought that the UK had already exceeded the number of people who could possibly have died from the virus.
The error arose when Mr Johnson thought a figure of 0.04 percent was a percentage.
But Mr Cummings and Mr Valance explained that the figure was a probability and translated to four percent, rather than 0.04 percent.
Mr Johnson said to the group chat: “I have just read somewhere that it has fallen to 0.04 per cent from 0.1 per cent. So by my maths, that is down from one in a thousand to about one in two thousand. (And I seem to remember that when the plague began we thought the fatality rate was one in a hundred)
“So if all 66m people in UK were to be infected we could expect 33,000 deaths. And we have already had 41k. Is that why the death rate is going down? Is it possible that Covid is starting to run out of potential victims? How can we possibly justify the continuing paralysis to control a disease that has a death rate of one in 2000?”
Later in the conversation, Mr Vallance explained: “It seems that the FT figure is 0.04 (ie four percent not 0.04 percent) and is the case fatality rate not the infection fatality rate (which would be 0.4-1% overall).”
Mr Cummings continued: “0.04 as a probability means four percent”, adding: “It’s just confusion of using probability figure or % figure. They aren’t clear. This is a common confusion!”
Mr Johnson simply asked: “Eh?” but there are no more texts available to confirm someone explained the full details to him.
The messages, published as part of an investigation by the Telegraph, suggest Mr Hancock rejected advice to give Covid tests to all residents going into English care homes.
The messages show Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the then health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
But the messages suggest Mr Hancock did not follow the guidance, telling an aide the move “muddies the waters”.
He introduced mandatory testing for those entering care homes from hospitals, but not from the community until later.
Mr Hancock expressed concerns that expanding care home testing could “get in the way” of the target of 100,000 daily coronavirus tests he was desperate to hit, according to the messages.
In one message, Mr Hancock said Sir Chris had finished a review and recommended “testing of all going into care homes, and segregation whilst awaiting result”.
The then health secretary described it as “obviously a good positive step”.
However, the investigation said he later responded to an aide: “Tell me if I’m wrong but I would rather leave it out and just commit to test & isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”
Matt Hancock is “considering all options” over the leaked messages, hitting back at what he branded a “distorted account” on his handling of care home testing in the pandemic.
A spokesman for the West Suffolk MP said: “It is outrageous that this distorted account of the pandemic is being pushed with partial leaks, spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda, which would have cost hundreds of thousands of lives if followed.
“What the messages do show is a lot of people working hard to save lives. The full documents have already all been made available to the inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment, so true lessons can be learned.
“The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available. Instead of spinning and leaks we need the full, comprehensive inquiry, to ensure we are as well prepared as we can be for the next pandemic, whenever it comes.”
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