Patrick Vallance contradicts Rishi Sunak’s evidence to Covid inquiry
Sir Patrick Vallance stated that Rishi Sunak most likely had knowledge of the concerns expressed by scientists regarding the "eat out to help out" program implemented during the pandemic. This information directly opposes the statements given by the prime minister during the Covid inquiry.
In testimony that could be harmful, Vallance, who was the UK government's top scientific adviser during the pandemic, expressed doubt that Sunak, who was the chancellor at the time, was unaware of protests against his efforts to support the hospitality sector.
Sunak responded to the inquiry, stating that he did not remember any discussions in ministerial meetings regarding potential issues with the discount scheme, despite increasing worries that it could contribute to the spread of the virus.
In July of 2020, Vallance's diary entry showed that Sunak was trying to resist following the advice of the scientists. During a meeting about economics, Sunak suggested that the key was not to manage the virus, but to manage the scientists instead.
Vallance stated that there were times when the advice that they were providing wasn't accepted by everyone, and as a result, they had to put in extra effort to ensure that their scientific evidence and advice was being understood and considered.
According to Vallance, it was noted that Boris Johnson had difficulties comprehending fundamental scientific concepts regarding Covid, including the effects of lockdown on infection waves, and required numerous explanations.
In his diary, Vallance depicted Johnson as lacking strength and having trouble making decisions when it came to enforcing a second lockdown during the autumn of 2020. Vallance remembered Johnson contending against imposing limitations because he believed that only older individuals would pass away, and they had already lived long enough.
When questioned about the dining program initiated by Sunak and provided millions of customers with discounts of as much as £10 in restaurants and cafes during the summer of 2020, Vallance stated that he and his fellow scientific advisors were not consulted for their opinions before the Treasury introduced it.
Before that time, the instruction was quite evident that mingling with individuals from other households whom you don't live with in a confined space where there are many others was considered a hazardous undertaking. Vallance said that the policy made a complete turnaround.
It's hard to imagine that it wouldn't have impacted transmission, so that's likely the advice that was provided.
Next month, Sunak will appear in person to answer inquiries. The inquiry panel was presented with a portion of Sunak's written witness statement, in which he stated that he couldn't remember any worries about the scheme being brought up during discussions attended by Vallance and Chris Whitty, both before and after the program's launch.
When questioned about the accuracy of the statement, Vallance mentioned that it would have been quite apparent to all that this would unavoidably lead to a rise in the likelihood of the virus spreading. He also believed that ministers would have been well aware of this fact.
During an inquiry, Andrew O'Connor asked if this also applied to Sunak. Vallance responded that he couldn't remember which meetings Sunak attended, but he would be shocked if any minister didn't realize that these events had potential dangers.
When questioned about Johnson's comprehension of the scientific principles he was given, Vallance declared that the prime minister's last encounter with science was when he was 15 years old. Vallance mentioned that Johnson recognized that science wasn't his strength, and he faced difficulties comprehending certain principles, which had to be reiterated.
He clarified that at times it was challenging to ensure that he comprehended the message conveyed by a specific chart or set of information.
During the hearing, Vallance stated that they discussed scientific concepts which are essential in fighting the virus, including whether or not interventions like lockdowns can help lower infection peaks.
Vallance mentioned that he used to observe the high points of waves and infections and question whether the actions being taken were genuinely causing them, or if they would have occurred regardless.
"He frequently revisited the same point. We discussed with him the evidence that showed how the interventions made a significant impact. It is undeniable that at some point there is inevitably a change in public behavior, leading to a decrease. However, it was evident that these reductions were being deliberately brought about by the interventions."
In Vallance's diary, there are many other entries that make Johnson look bad. They reveal that he kept changing his mind about whether there should be a second lockdown. Vallance told the hearing that the media had a big influence on him at the time.
According to a diary entry dated 25 October 2020, Johnson reportedly commenced a discussion on potential limitations by advocating for an approach of "letting it all rip." He supposedly acknowledged that there would be more fatalities, but was willing to accept this outcome, saying "they have had a good innings." Additionally, the same entry noted that Johnson commented, "Most individuals who pass away have already lived a long life."
At the start of his evidence, Vallance mentioned that towards the middle of March 2020 (around a week before Johnson initiated the initial lockdown), Covid was found to be spreading more extensively and quickly than anyone anticipated. He further stated that there should have been a realization that action needed to be taken sooner.
In a statement made by Vallance, he summarized the crucial lesson he learned during that time. He emphasized that it was essential to act sooner, stronger, and more extensively than preferred when implementing interventions, as repeatedly stated from the first lockdown until present.