03/02/2021 20:15 GMT

Chris Whitty Has Had Enough Of Your Shit

England’s chief medical officer was all business at the Downing Street press conference.

Chris Whitty is done. At least, that’s the energy England’s usually mild-mannered chief medical officer brought to a Downing Street press conference on Wednesday.

You might be done, too, if you had been badly misquoted by the prime minister, or publicly dismissed the effectiveness of the government’s tiered system of lockdown – only for them to go ahead with it anyway.

Add to that going viral after being subjected to verbal abuse in the street by a teenager just for doing your job – namely, trying to stop people dying during a pandemic. 

Not that the owlish scientist was particularly troubled by the confrontation – which resulted in the perpetrator having his PlayStation taken away from him by his mum.

POOL New / Reuters
Chris Whitty arrives for a virtual news conference on the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The odd young lad, showing off, occasionally happens,” was how Whitty characterised the incident with the 15-year-old who filmed himself repeatedly accusing the medical expert of “lying” to the nation.

“I didn’t think anything of it frankly,” Whitty continued. “I was very surprised it was picked up by the media at all as anything of any importance.

“I’m sure he’ll become a model citizen in due course and hopefully more like Captain Tom, who is the kind of person who I think much more exemplifies the spirit of the UK.”

With Boris Johnson at the neighbouring podium muttering “hear hear”, Whitty went on: “I mean, he was himself clearly absolutely remarkable but what he was also doing was showing that how it is that everybody has responded to this.

“This has been a nationwide, everybody responding, because if it was not for that we wouldn’t see those numbers coming down and that peak you’ve just talked about would not have occurred, that is because everybody has worked together.”

Elsewhere in the briefing, Whitty seemed a little perturbed to be indulging some of the arguments that the news media is obsessing over. Schools re-opening is one of those hot button issues, and Whitty felt he had to walk through the arguments as if he were talking to the pupils themselves.

“There are very clearly two sides to this argument and both of them are true,” he began.

“There is an incredibly strong set of evidence, which I do not think anyone disputes, that being in school is good for children, their mental health, their long-term health [...] it helps their parents, too, it is not the primary thing, that is part of it.”

He added there were “clear medical, educational and societal reasons why children being in schools is the right place to be and we are confident [...] that the risk to children relative to adults is incredibly low”.

“None of that is disputed,” he repeated for good measure, and you could sense a “but” was coming.

Whitty went on to argue schools were open until “this new, more transmissible variant” came along and changed the calculous: “And I think the evidence for that is really clear now.”

“Those two sets of arguments, I do not think they are disputed by anyone and it is a matter of when is the right moment to balance them,” he concluded. 

The chief scientist also poured a bucket of cold water on some of the more optimistic forecasts over life in the UK returning to normal, with reports suggesting the government hopes that all adults could get their first Covid vaccine jab by May – and their second by August.

“Optimism is a great thing,” Whitty deadpanned. “But logistics aren’t about optimism, they are about what numbers you can get through in the right order.”

In summary, he thought the ambition is “beyond what is possible”.

He said: “The numbers by May and August strikes me as at the very optimistic end.

“I think if you talk to people who are doing this extraordinarily fast rollout [...] they would say they will go absolutely hell for leather [...] but trying to hit those dates, that is probably beyond what is possible.”  

And there was perhaps a note of sarcasm when he had to point out why winter is not a great time for the getting Covid-19 under control.

He said: “The reason my colleagues have implied that a highly contagious respiratory virus which is not going to be eradicated from the globe, or indeed eliminated from the UK, may surge in winter, is because that’s what highly contagious respiratory viruses always do. I think everybody knows that.”

Whitty rounded things off by knocking Covid sceptics: “There will always be a noisy group of people that disagrees with virtually anything.

“Actually there’s little evidence of a large background swell of opinion. The great majority of people fully understand the issues.”