What We Know So Far From Matt Hancock's Covid WhatsApps

The allegations, leaked in The Daily Telegraph, have caused nothing short of chaos.
Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson have all been cast in an unflattering light through the leaked WhatsApps
Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Gavin Williamson have all been cast in an unflattering light through the leaked WhatsApps

Matt Hancock’s leaked WhatsApp messages from the early stages of the pandemic have not done the Tory party any favours this week.

As health secretary during the first stages of the Covid pandemic, Hancock was one of the key figures charged with helping guide the country through lockdowns, mass testing and vaccinations.

He resigned from government after breaking his own social distancing rules, was kicked out of the Conservatives after going on I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here!, and has since written a book called the Pandemic Diaries, co-authored by journalist Isabel Oakeshott.

So he shared more than 100,000 of his own WhatsApps with her for the memoir – and she passed them onto The Daily Telegraph, citing public interest.

Since the leak, Hancock has dubbed the investigation a “distorted account” of the conversations, and “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.

He also condemned the “massive betrayal and breach of trust” by Oakeshott.

Amid all the noise, here’s a clear list of the most eye-opening allegations from the Telegraph’s investigation so far.

Matt Hancock allegations

Care home testing

Chief medical officer Professor Sir Chir Whitty told Hancock in April 2020 everyone going into care home should be tested for Covid.

According to the WhatsApps, Hancock said this was “obviously a good positive step”.

But, the newspaper’s investigation suggests Hancock then told his adviser: “I would rather leave it out and just commit to test and isolate ALL going into care from hospital. I do not think the community commitment adds anything and it muddies the waters.”

After the leak, Hancock’s spokesperson claimed the newspaper’s story is “wrong” and has “intentionally excluded reference to a meeting with the testing team from the WhatsApp” where the-then health secretary was told Whitty’s plan was not “deliverable”.

The spokesperson said: “The story spun on care homes is completely wrong. What the messages show is that Mr Hancock pushed for testing of those going into care homes when that testing was available.

“The full documents have already all been made available to the [Covid] inquiry, which is the proper place for an objective assessment, so true lessons can be learned.”

Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty attending a COBRA meeting in March 2020
Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty attending a COBRA meeting in March 2020
Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images

Evening Standard front page

Hancock also reportedly texted former Tory chancellor and editor of the Evening Standard up until July 2020, George Osbourne, asking for a favourable front page when he was trying to reach his Covid testing targets.

On April 2, 2020, Hancock had publicly vowed to increase testing capacity significantly as the EU was streaks ahead of the UK – but then, according to the Telegraph, he was falling shot of his own target.

He reportedly said the spare testing slots were “obvs good news about spread of virus” but “hard for my target” in a text appealing to his former colleague.

Osbourne replied: “Yes – of course – all you need to do tomorrow is give some exclusive words to the Standard and I’ll tell the team to splash it. You’re almost there. Send the words to me by 8am tomorrow.”

The health secretary later replied: “I WANT TO HIT MY TARGET!”

George Osborne, editor of the London Evening Standard, and Matthew Hancock, then culture secretary in 2018
George Osborne, editor of the London Evening Standard, and Matthew Hancock, then culture secretary in 2018
David M. Benett via Getty Images

A clash over ‘mass testing’

However, the investigation suggests the pair weren’t always on such good terms by November 2020.

Osbourne gave a radio interview criticising the Covid testing, urging then prime minister Boris Johnson to make testing his “absolute number one priority”.

Hancock allegedly then messaged: “What was this for?”

Osbourne replied: “Trying to spread the responsibility from you to Number 10 – I’ve said it before.”

Hancock said: “Ok but mass testing is going v well – I fear this looks like you asked for me to be overruled…”

Mr Osborne shot back: “No one thinks testing is going well, Matt.

“If I wanted a test today I can’t get one, unless I fake symptoms – and [redacted] is still waiting test results from three weeks ago ([redacted] went private in the end).”

Boris Johnson allegations

Worries about testing

The former PM messaged Hancock on June 4, 2020, pointing out that the £37 billion test and trace programme (rolled out just days before) was a major problem for the UK.

Johnson supposedly said: “It’s all about testing. That’s our Achilles’ heel.

“We can’t deliver a sensible border policy or adequate track and trace because we can’t test enough. Do we got to the Germans for those kits that Angela Merkel was offering?

“What is wrong with us as a country if we can’t fix this? We have had months and months.

“I am going quietly crackers about this.”

Hancock allegedly urged the then PM not to “go crackers”, and said the UK has a bigger testing capacity than Europe. “The problem is the false negatives – so the medics are against releasing from self-isolation (whether for quarantine or T&T) with a negative test.”

Johnson and Hancock in a hospital back in 2019
Johnson and Hancock in a hospital back in 2019

Basic maths error

The leaks show Johnson reportedly not understanding basic maths during the pandemic in a group of messages between Johnson, his then-top aide Dominic Cummings, and the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance.

The group were discussing the Financial Times’ conclusion that the-then mortality rate linked to Covid was 0.04,

Johnson asked: “What is 0.04 if it is not a percentage?”

Cummings allegedly had to explain that it was a probability, that it actually worked out to around 4%.

Worries about shielding

The WhatsApps show Johnson was allegedly worried that over-65s should be given a “choice” between shielding or an “even-diminishing risk” of living a more normal life as concerns about the elderly soared in the height of the pandemic.

He compared the risk of catching Covid within this age group to the risk of “falling down stairs,” claiming: “And we don’t stop older people from using stairs.”

Shielding went ahead anyway.

Gavin Williamson allegations

Then-education secretary, Sir Gavin Williamson, asked Hancock to help him secure PPE for schools back in May 2020, when schools were looking to re-open.

The investigation suggests he said offering this personal protective equipment would stop staff using it as a “reason not to open”, adding: “All of them will but some will just want to say they can’t so they have an excuse to avoid having to teach, what joys!!!”

Williamson is facing particular heat over these leaks because only earlier that month, he had publicly told teachers they had been “outstanding” and that “we are so grateful for what you’ve done”.

Hancock also messaged Williamson later that year congratulating him on the decision to delay A-level exams for a few weeks, saying: “What a bunch of absolute arses the teaching unions are.”

The-the education secretary replied: “I know they really really do just hate work.”

Williamson tweeted on Wednesday, after the messages made the news, that these were “about some unions not teachers”.

He added: “I have the utmost respect for teachers who work tirelessly to support students.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg allegations

In September 2020, the then-Commons leader allegedly got a Covid test couriered to him for one of his children amid a nationwide backlog.

The aide texted Hancock saying the lab had “lost” the original test, so one had to be sent over “tonight”, urging Hancock to follow up with a text to Rees-Mogg.

It’s not clear if Hancock did send a text or if the test was delivered.

Rees-Mogg then appeared on GB News on Wednesday evening, confirming that his child’s test had been lost, so he had to quarantine.

He said that meant he was “unable to do my job as a government minister for several days until was admitted that this had been lost”, but he said that he did not ask for another test.

The current backbencher added: “Not something I asked for, so if I received any special treatment, it wasn’t because I had requested it, but actually it allowed a government minister to get back to work with a child that didn’t have Covid in the first place, who wouldn’t have needed a special test had the system actually been working, but I accept it wasn’t working for other people too.”


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