‘Highly likely’ that Eat Out To Help Out cost lives, claims Sir Patrick Vallance as Rishi Sunak is accused of saying the Government should ‘just let people die’ to avoid another lockdown
- The PM launched the flagship offer in August 2020 to kickstart hospitality
- Sir Patrick Vallance said it is ‘highly likely’ that people died because of policy
Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme likely cost lives, the Government’s top pandemic scientist has told the Covid Inquiry.
The then-Chancellor launched the flagship offer in August 2020. Brits were given discounts for dining in restaurants in a bid to kickstart the hospitality industry that suffered heavily because of lockdowns.
Sir Patrick Vallance, No10’s ex-chief scientific adviser, today said it is ‘highly likely’ that people died because of the policy. He added that all ministers were aware that such schemes were risky, despite PM Mr Sunak telling the probe he didn’t recall any pushback over the offer.
Meanwhile, an extract taken from Sir Patrick’s pandemic diary, which has only been shared with the inquiry, treatment for levaquin poisoning alleged Mr Sunak believed it was ‘okay’ to just ‘let people die’ to avoid another lockdown.
The accusation levelled at the PM was made by Boris Johnson’s former chief of staff Dominic Cummings just days before a national lockdown was imposed.
The PM’s spokesperson today said Mr Sunak will set out his version of events when he appears before the inquiry.
The Prime Minister launched the flagship offer in August 2020. It gave Brits discounts for dining in restaurants in a bid to kickstart the hospitality industry
A waiter serves customers’ pizzas as diners sit at tables outside a restaurant in London on August 3, 2020 as part of the Government’s ‘Eat out to Help out’ scheme
Sir Patrick Vallance, No10’s ex-chief scientific adviser, today said it is ‘highly likely’ that people died because of the policy, adding that all ministers were aware that such schemes were risky
Sir Patrick told the inquiry that scientists were unaware of the Eat Out To Help Out policy until it was announced.
However, the inquiry was shown Mr Sunak’s witness statement, which states that he did not recall ‘any concerns about the scheme being expressed during ministerial discussions’, including those attended by Sir Patrick.
The scientist said: ‘We didn’t see it before it was announced and I think others in the Cabinet Office also said they didn’t see it before it was formulated as policy. So we weren’t involved in the run up to it.’
He added: ‘I think it would have been very obvious to anyone that this inevitably would cause an increase in transmission risk, and I think that would have been known by ministers.’
Asked whether the scheme would have fuelled Covid deaths, Sir Patrick said: ‘It’s highly likely to have done.’
READ MORE: ‘There is no such thing as ‘the’ science’: Sir Patrick Vallance tells Covid Inquiry ministers were ‘completely wrong’ to hide behind the ‘following the science’ term during pandemic
Sir Patrick also revealed that he had clashes with England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) Sir Chris Whitty (left), who he described as a ‘delayer’
He said he would be ‘very surprised’ if any minister didn’t understand that the policy was risky.
No10 would not be drawn on whether the Prime Minister had consulted scientists on the transmission risk of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme before announcing it.
The Downing Street official said a number of people will be setting out their views of the period, but ‘rather than respond to each one in piecemeal, it’s right that it is looked at alongside other evidence’.
The inquiry was also shown diary entries from Sir Patrick on October 25, 2020, in which he writes that 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.’
Asked about the diary entry, Sir Patrick told the inquiry he was recording what must have been ‘quite a shambolic day’.
Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Sunak thought it would be acceptable to ‘just let people die’ and said the PM will set out his position during evidence before the Covid Inquiry.
‘The Prime Minister is due to give evidence before the inquiry at the time of their choosing. That’s when he’ll set out his position,’ Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said.
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’.
Sir Patrick also told the inquiry that it was ‘completely wrong’ that ministers hid behind their insistence that they were simply ‘following the science’ during Covid.
He argued there is ‘no such thing as the science’ because it is ‘a moving body of knowledge’. Policymakers ‘hid behind this at times’, he argued.
The ‘following the science’ term, wheeled out at Downing Street press briefings at the height of the pandemic and used to justify lockdown restrictions, was taken to mean that the Government was ‘slavishly’ following advice, Sir Patrick said.
Sir Patrick, who headed up SAGE before standing down from his £185,000-a-year role, said: ‘The repeated assertion undermined the importance of ministerial judgement, and the accountability of ministers for decisions.’
He said he welcomed the mantra originally because it showed that ministers were ‘listening to us’ and ‘that’s not always the case in Government’, adding: ‘But I think the way in which this was heard and possibly meant, in terms of slavishly following the science, obeying it at all times, it’s completely wrong.’
Sir Patrick also claimed Matt Hancock had a ‘habit’ of saying things which were not true during Covid.
He blamed the former Health Secretary’s ‘over-enthusiasm’ for making bold claims he ‘didn’t have a basis for’.
However, Sir Patrick also acknowledged that some of Mr Hancock’s comments may have been ‘deliberate’, in an eye-opening exchange at the Covid Inquiry.
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.
‘I don’t know to what extent that was sort of over-enthusiasm versus deliberate – I think a lot of it was over-enthusiasm.
‘He definitely said things which surprised me because I knew that the evidence base wasn’t there.’
A spokesperson for Mr Hancock said: ‘Mr Hancock has supported the inquiry throughout and will respond to all questions when he gives his evidence.’
Giving evidence to the inquiry, Sir Patrick said that he had thought London ‘needed more’ restrictions than other parts of the country at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
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…
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
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.’
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