Leaked WhatsApp messages have revealed that the former UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, rejected advice from England’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty, to cut the 14-day COVID isolation period short to five days in November 2020.
The messages showed that Sir Chris Whitty had suggested that testing for five days could replace the 14-day isolation period. However, Hancock feared that it would imply that the government had been wrong and rejected the idea.
The release of the messages about isolation was part of a series of WhatsApp messages leaked to The Telegraph. Other messages showed how Hancock fought to take credit for the success of Britain’s vaccine campaign, telling colleagues that he was “Mr Vaccine.”
Hancock also criticized Dame Kate Bingham, the vaccines tsar, as “totally unreliable” and “wacky” after she questioned the need to inoculate the entire population.
In the exchange with Sir Chris Whitty, Hancock questioned whether the 14-day isolation period had been too long all along. Sir Chris responded that self-isolating for a fortnight was only “marginally safer” than ten days and that this tiny benefit came “certainly at the expense of reduced adherence.”
He concluded that “it probably balances out.” Hancock suggested that testing every day for ten days would be a safer starting point, but Sir Chris replied that the benefits flatten off after five days.
The self-isolation period was eventually shortened to ten days on December 14, 2020. In a statement this week, Hancock said that all the materials for his book had been made available to the official COVID-19 inquiry.
The leaked messages have caused controversy, with some questioning whether Hancock put his reputation ahead of public health during the pandemic. Others argue that the messages show the difficult decisions that government officials had to make during an unprecedented public health crisis.