Newly leaked messages have provided insight into the mentality of the former Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, as he planned to use the new variant of coronavirus to scare the public into obeying restrictions.
The leaked text messages, consisting of nearly 100,000 WhatsApp messages given by journalist Isabel Oakeshott to the Telegraph, also revealed that Hancock’s aides discussed using “fear and guilt” to maintain lockdown.
In the messages, Hancock’s adviser suggested that they “roll pitch with the new strain” instead of forward signalling. Hancock replied by saying that they should “frighten the pants off everyone with the new strain,” and expressed frustration that Brexit was dominating the news agenda at the time.
The former Health Secretary also discussed with his Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case, how to ensure compliance from the public, which included stricter mask-wearing rules.
Hancock had expressed concern that using the new variant to drum up concern around Covid could lead to schools closing. Earlier messages had shown Hancock joking with an aide that teachers “hate work.”
However, Case agreed that they should focus on the “fear/guilt factor,” and suggested that the London Nightingale hospital coming into use would feel like a big public moment.
The new variant was identified publicly on December 14, five days before Boris Johnson announced that families could no longer meet up for Christmas.
England then entered a third lockdown on January 6, 2021. Hancock has since said that all the materials for his book had been made available to the official COVID-19 inquiry.
The leaked messages have raised questions about the government’s handling of the pandemic and their use of fear to maintain lockdown restrictions.
Critics argue that the government’s use of fear could have long-lasting effects on the mental health of the public. However, supporters of the government’s approach argue that they had to take drastic measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the leaked messages have provided a glimpse into the decision-making process of the government during a crucial time in the pandemic.
The government’s handling of the pandemic will continue to be scrutinised as the world continues to navigate the challenges posed by the virus.