The Government’s top pandemic scientist has had ‘no intention’ of his notes from the crisis ‘ever seeing the light of day’, the Covid Inquiry has heard.
Sir Patrick Vallance kept a diary during the pandemic, which has been described as ‘a brain dump’ written ‘at the end of immensely stressful days to protect his mental health’.
Explosive extracts have been shared as part of the inquiry, including revelations that ex-prime minister Boris Johnson once described coronavirus as ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’.
No10’s former Chief Scientific Adviser, who is giving evidence to the inquiry today, was asked whether he planned to use his notes to write a memoir of the pandemic.
He said: ‘I had no intention whatsoever of these ever seeing the light of day or me looking at them again and sort of felt the world had probably had enough of books of reflections of people’s thoughts during Covid.’
Sir Patrick said: ‘I had no intention whatsoever of these ever seeing the light of day or me looking at them again and sort of felt the world had probably had enough of books of reflections of people’s thoughts during Covid’
Sir Patrick kept a diary during the pandemic, which has been described as ‘a brain dump’ written ‘at the end of immensely stressful days to protect his mental health’
Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance arrives at Dorland House in London this morning to give a statement to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry
Giving evidence at Dorland House in London on Monday, Sir Patrick admitted the diary was a way of protecting his own mental health from the daily stresses of his job.
He said: ‘At the end of each day, often quite late in the evening, I would just spend a few minutes jotting down some thoughts from that day, and things and reflections, and did it as a way to get that, in a sense, out of the way so that I could concentrate on the following day.
‘These were private thoughts. They were instant reflections from a day. And once they were written, I actually never looked at them again.
‘They were put in a drawer and that was that. I certainly had no intention of doing anything else with them either.’
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock is among those who have offered their account of the pandemic. His book, Pandemic Diaries: The inside story of Britain’s battle against Covid, was published last December.
Spike: The Virus v the People, written by Sir Jeremy Farrar, an influential member of SAGE, and journalist Anjana Ahuja, offered his ‘inside story’ on how the crisis unfolded and criticised the UK’s handling of the pandemic.
Extracts from Sir Patrick’s diary have been used during the inquiry to look at the work of key figures, including Cabinet ministers, ex-Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain and former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill.
One entry recorded that the former PM had referred to the Treasury as the ‘pro-death squad’ when he wanted the department to back him in arguing for a path to eased restrictions.
Sir Patrick, who served as the Government’s chief scientific adviser from 2018 to 2023, also wrote about his frustrations in dealing with the then-prime minister.
‘(Mr Johnson is) obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going,’ he said.
‘Quite bonkers set of exchanges,’ he wrote, referring to a WhatsApp group including Mr Johnson.
Sir Patrick also said that he and Sir Chris felt Number 10 officials were trying to ‘strong-arm’ them into appearing by Mr Johnson’s side at a Downing Street press conference following the then-prime minister’s ex-chief adviser Dominic Cummings’ press conference on his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle.
The journey was clearly against the rules and Mr Cummings’ televised appearance before the media was a ‘car crash’, the former chief scientist said in an entry in May 2020.
Sir Patrick has objected to the publication of his pandemic-era diary in full.
Inquiry chairwoman Baroness Heather Hallett has yet to make a decision on whether the entries should be disclosed in their entirety.
Sir Patrick has always maintained it was not his job to tell Mr Johnson and the Cabinet what they wanted to hear, but to make clear the scientific evidence.
In October 2021, he told the BBC: ‘My job is not to sugarcoat it. My job is not to tell them things they want to hear… it’s to make sure that they understand what the science at that moment is saying, what the uncertainties are, and to try to make that as clear as possible.’
England’s chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty will give evidence to the inquiry on Tuesday and his former deputy, Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, on Wednesday.
They will be followed by the Government’s current chief scientific adviser, Dame Angela McLean on Wednesday, while Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch and Dame Jenny Harries, who is head of the UK Health Security Agency, will give evidence on Thursday.
Sir Patrick Vallance diary extracts
JUNE 10, 2020
‘I’m worried that a ‘Sage is trouble’ vibe is appearing in Number 10. It may even be the Government selected on occasion from Sage what it wanted.
‘There is a paper from Number 10 cabinet office for the one metre two/metre review. Some person has completely rewritten the science advice as though it’s the definitive version.
‘They’ve just cherry picked. Quite extraordinary.’
‘No 10. Chaos as usual. On Friday the two-metre rule meeting made it abundantly clear that no one in No 10 or the Cabinet Office really read or is taking time to understand the science advice on two metres. Quite extraordinary.’
NOVEMBER 11, 2020
‘He [Simon Case] says Number 10 is at war with itself. Carrie faction with Gove and another with spads downstairs. The PM is caught in the middle. He, the cabinet secretary, has spoken to all his predecessors … and no one has seen anything like it.’
‘This flip-flopping is impossible. One minute do more, next do nothing.
‘He doesn’t seem to push actual resolutions. Morning PM meeting, he wants everything normal by September, and then you deal with things locally and regionally.
‘He’s now completely bullish on opening everything. As another person said, it’s so inconsistent. It’s like bipolar decision-making.’
‘The ridiculous flip-flopping is getting worse.’
‘The CMO (Sir Chris Whitty) and I are both worried about the extreme inconsistency from the Prime Minister, lurching from open everything to panic.’
SEPTEMBER 19, 2020
‘He’s [Boris Johnson] all over the place [about circuit-breaker lockdown] and completely inconsistent.
‘You can see why it was so difficult to agree to lockdown the first time.’