Covid lockdowns should have been ‘harder’, ‘broader’ and introduced ‘earlier’, Sir Patrick Vallance hinted today.
Addressing the Covid Inquiry, No10’s former chief scientific adviser said it was the ‘most important lesson’ he learned during the pandemic.
His comment mirrors claims made by other influential scientists, who criticised the Government for being too slow to introduce the original blanket shutdown in March 2020.
Yet critics question whether drastic restrictions were ever needed, given the major knock-on effects they had on the economy, education and NHS.
It was also revealed today that Sir Chris Whitty had warned against more restrictive Covid measures.
Addressing the Covid Inquiry, No10’s former chief scientific adviser said it was the ‘most important lesson’ he learned during the pandemic
In diary extracts, Sir Patrick said his peer – who regularly appeared alongside him at Downing St press briefings – was ‘more cautious than me’ and ‘worried about pulling the trigger too soon’ and wanted to take a ‘slightly slower path’.
He told the inquiry his colleague was concerned ‘that there would be more than just the issue of the direct cause of death from the virus’.
While Sir Patrick said this was a ‘totally appropriate worry’, he disagreed.
In his witness statement to the Covid Inquiry, he said: ‘The most important lesson I learned and stated repeatedly from the first lockdown onwards, in respect to the timing of interventions, was that you had to go earlier than you would like, harder than you would like and broader than you would like.’
Explaining what he meant, he said: ‘As I mentioned, in the first wave I think we didn’t go early enough and there was a trickling of measures when I think we should have gone with more measures simultaneously.
‘So my rider that it’s “than you would like to” is very clear, and that is because the observation I made was that everyone’s instinct is to not to do any of these things.
‘It’s to delay just a bit too much, it’s to argue that the measures shouldn’t be quite as strict at the moment – and we saw this very clearly during October, where every MP argued that their areas shouldn’t be in a higher tier, they should be in a lower tier.
‘So, everyone’s arguing to do things just a little bit less than they should do.’
Addressing the probe, he also argued that similar mistakes were made later in the year when certain areas of England, including Leicester and Liverpool, were given further restrictions over the spread of the virus.
Sir Patrick, who was tasked with advising ministers throughout the pandemic, also later admitted to the inquiry there was no basis for the ‘rule of six’, the law banning gatherings of more than six people at certain points in the pandemic.
Sir Patrick, who headed up SAGE before standing down from his £185,000-a-year role, said: ‘We were pretty clear that we didn’t actually think that had an enormous basis in anything.
‘Why six? Why not eight? Why not ten? We couldn’t tell anyone which was better or worse.’
The rule was first introduced in September 2020 across England to prohibit social gatherings of more than six people.
In diary extracts, Sir Patrick said Sir Chris Whitty – who regularly appeared alongside him at Downing St press briefings – was ‘more cautious than me’ and ‘worried about pulling the trigger too soon’ and wanted to take a ‘slightly slower path’
In Scotland and Wales such gatherings were also outlawed – but children under 12 were exempt.
Sir Patrick argued restrictions were ‘not the easy option’, adding ‘we were aware at all times that these carried particular risks’.
In further revelations, the inquiry was also shown diary entries from Sir Patrick on October 25, 2020, when the country was heading towards a second national lockdown, claiming Dominic Cummings suggested Mr Sunak thought it was ‘okay’ to just let people die.
The extract read: ‘DC [Mr Cummings] says ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay’. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership.’
In the same extract, it was said that Boris Johnson had argued to ‘let it rip’. The then-PM, according to Sir Patrick’s diary, said there would be more casualties but they ‘have had a good innings’.
Asked about the diary entry, Sir Patrick told the inquiry he was recording what must have been ‘quite a shambolic day’.
Earlier today, the inquiry also heard that former health secretary Matt Hancock had a ‘habit’ of saying things which were not true during Covid.
Asked to summarise his time working with Mr Hancock, Sir Patrick said: ‘I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later.’
He added: ‘He definitely said things which surprised me because I knew that the evidence base wasn’t there.’
When asked by inquiry counsel Andrew O’Connor if this meant he ‘said things that weren’t true’, Sir Patrick answered ‘yes’.
Mr Hancock was also earlier this year described as a ‘proven liar’ by Boris Johnson’s maverick former aide Dominic Cummings, who pushed for him to be sacked.
Concerns over Mr Hancock’s candour were also echoed by Lord Mark Sedwill, who was Cabinet Secretary in 2020.
And Helen MacNamara, who served as deputy cabinet secretary, also claimed in her evidence that Mr Hancock displayed ‘nuclear levels’ of overconfidence and a pattern of reassuring colleagues the pandemic was being dealt with in ways that were not true.
What Sir Patrick Vallance REALLY thought during Covid: Explosive extracts of No10’s ex-chief scientist, who kept diaries at ‘the end of immensely stressful days to protect his mental health’
Fresh extracts from Sir Patrick Vallance’s explosive pandemic diaries were today revealed as part of the Covid inquiry.
The notes by No10’s former Chief Scientific Adviser have been described as ‘a brain dump’, written ‘at the end of immensely stressful days to protect his mental health’.
In snippets published today, Sir Patrick confirmed that he had clashes with England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty, who he described as a ‘delayer’ when it came to bringing in Covid curbs.
In the early days of the pandemic, he said the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was ‘bamboozled’ by scientific models.
And Rishi Sunak said was ‘all about handling the scientists’ rather than managing the virus outbreak during a meeting when he was Chancellor, his notes reveal.
Here, MailOnline reveals some of the extracts…
Chris Whitty ‘thought Covid would be contained’
In January 2020: ‘Chris thought would be contained. PM ‘my gut tells me this will be fine’. MH [Matt Hancock] — desperate to own and lead. PM still optimistic. CW [Sir Chris] more cautious [about the knock-on effects of lockdown] than me.’
Boris Johnson is ‘clearly bamboozled’
On May 4, 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: ‘Late afternoon meeting with PM on schools. My God this is complicated and models will not provide the answer. PM is clearly bamboozled.’
No10 didn’t understand science behind 2m rule
On June 11, 2020: ‘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.’
No10 ‘want the science altered’
On June 19, 2020: ‘No10 pushing hard on releasing measures — including clubs and bars. They are pushing very hard and want the science altered. We need to hold on to our hats. There will likely be a second peak.’
Rishi Sunak said ‘it is all about handling the scientists’
On July 2, 2020: ‘In economics meeting earlier in the day they didn’t realise CMO [Sir Chris] was there and Cx [then Chancellor Rishi Sunak] said, ‘It is all about handling the scientists, not handling the virus.’ They then got flustered when CMO chipped in later and they realised he had been there all along. PM blustered and waffled for 5 mins to cover his embarrassment.’
Nicola Sturgeon ‘breaks ranks’ with school face mask guidance
On August 24, 2020: ‘Scotland breaks ranks over face coverings and schools despite CMO [Sir Chris] having worked hard to get all CMOs aligned to a very good statement released the day before.’
Dominic Cummings said he doesn’t want ‘unrealistic Hancockian timetables’
On September 7, 2020: ‘DC says ‘we don’t want any unrealistic Hancockian timetables.”
Boris Johnson said ‘we are too s**t to get our act together’
On September 20, 2020: ‘5 hr of meetings with the PM. He came back from Battle of Britain memorial service and was distressed by seeing everyone in separated and in masks – ‘made and spooky, we have got to end it.’ Starts challenging numbers and questioning whether they really translate into deaths. Says it is not exponential etc etc. Looked broken – head in hands a lot. ‘Is it because of the great libertarian nation we are that it spreads so much.’ ‘Maybe we are licked as a species.’ ‘We are to s**t to get our act together.’ We went round in circles.’
Boris Johnson said Covid is ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’
On December 14, 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: ‘PM told he has been acting early and the public are with him (but his party is not). He says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people — and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them. A lot of moderate people think it is a bit too much. Wants to rely on polling.’
Chris Whitty was a ‘delayer’
On February 7, 2021 Sir Patrick wrote: ‘CMO [Sir Chris] talked afterwards about inquiry — was lockdown too late in March, could we have known (he was a delayer of course). Regrets we had re press — ‘fatigue’, ‘herd immunity’, ‘20,000’ and the graphs. We have learnt a lot.’
Treasury accused of ‘pure dogma’
On October 26, 2021: ‘Economic predictions. HMT [the Treasury] saying economy nearly back to normal and Plan B would cost £18 billion. No evidence. No transparency. Pure dogma and wrong throughout.’