Second Covid lockdown could have been avoided, says Sir Chris Whitty

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The second national lockdown could have been avoided if ministers had made different decisions over the summer of 2020, Prof Sir Chris Whitty has said.

The Chief Medical Officer (CMO) told the Covid inquiry that the second lockdown, which began on Nov 5 that year, was “not necessarily inevitable”.

It came as Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam revealed that police told him to move his family out of their home following death threats during the pandemic.

Sir Chris was asked by Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, whether the second lockdown was avoidable if, for example, the tier system of staggered restrictions had been imposed earlier.

He replied: “I think most people would say that’s the case. I think there are a variety of ways we could potentially at least have had a less onerous lockdown than we did…

“I thought it was inevitable by the time we got there, but it wasn’t necessarily inevitable, had previous decisions been different.”

If tiered restrictions had been imposed earlier and had more time to work “there remains the possibility that the second lockdown might not have been necessary or might not have been as long”, he said.

The second lockdown began on Nov 5 2020
The second lockdown began on Nov 5 2020 - Sopa Images/Light Rocket

The inquiry has previously been told that Sir Chris described the then chancellor Rishi Sunak’s meal subsidy scheme in the summer of 2020 as “Eat Out to Help the virus”.

Sir Jonathan, the former deputy chief medical officer (DCMO), told the inquiry he first heard about Eat Out to Help Out when he saw it mentioned on television, and “it didn’t feel sensible to me”.

He also revealed that during the pandemic his family were “threatened with having their throats cut” and he considered resigning from his job as a result.

‘A very stressful time’

Sir Jonathan said that while he was prepared for the “horrendous” workload of 16 hours a day, seven days a week: “I did not expect the police to have to say ‘will you move out’ in the middle of the night, in the middle of the evening. ‘Will you move out for a few days while we look at this and potentially make some arrests?’

“We didn’t move out because of the cat, as it happened. It was a very stressful time. And my family didn’t sign up for that.”

Baroness Hallett, chairman of the inquiry, told Sir Jonathan: “I just want you to be reminded that the vast majority of the population abhor such conduct and we are enormously grateful to you and your colleagues for the way in which you served the public of this country in a time of national emergency.

“So please ignore the violent criminal idiot element and remember the rest of us are grateful.”

Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam also gave evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday
Prof Sir Jonathan Van-Tam also gave evidence to the inquiry on Wednesday

In his written statement Sir Jonathan said he had considered resigning from his post due to the death threats.

He said: “I am asked by the inquiry whether I considered resigning... The short answer is yes but it needs to be given context. I never doubted my ability to fulfil my role as a DCMO.

“However, as I have explained above, the pressures were considerable. Requests for advice and clinical input came in... around the clock, seven days a week for lengthy periods with little to no respite.”

Referencing “extremely hateful messages from the public” and the occasion when he escalated matters to the police, he said it was “against this background that I can say, there were times when I thought about leaving my role.”

Sir Jonathan added: “Fortunately, it did not come to that. Nor did it come to a point where I felt it necessary to discuss the possibility with the CMO. “

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