Prime Minister Boris Johnson was worried that he had “blinked too soon” in plunging Britain into a second national lockdown based on the data scientists had already warned him to be “very wrong”.
This erupted when a collection of more than 100,000 messages sent between former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and other ministers and officials at the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, were obtained by the Telegraph.
On June 6, 2020, Mr Johnson sent a message to Mr Hancock, in which he said that he was “intensively thinking about June 15”. While on June 15, the government had already outlined to open non-essential retail stores, but messages from Mr Johnson suggested that he wanted to continue the shutdown for more weeks.
As per the extracts from WhatsApp texts, the Prime Minister then wrote: “Right now we might be running non-essential retail stores, some more for families, a few outdoor activities and hospitality, and announcing we won’t be able to complete all primary schools by July,” commenting on comments suggesting he believed to open these areas before the mid-June deadline.
The Health Secretary at that time said, “I think it’s too early for outdoor hospitality – and they don’t expect it until next month.” On the schools, he added, “Everyone has accepted that there will not be any schools until September.” The health secretary further concluded that in his opinion the public is always right and they need to keep their cool.”
After being warned that this was not what the public expected, the government did not allow restaurants to open until July 4. However, he told the public that this was because the evidence permitted it to open too soon. At a news conference, he told, “The next set of changes will be the third step and will not begin until July 4 at the earliest, as far as the evidence permits”.
The comments made on June 6, 2020, WhatsApp messages were completely contradictory to what the government had said publicly in previous conferences and broadcasts.
Two days later, on June 8, 2020, Mr Hancock responded to a question about the opening of schools, that it had been a “very difficult policy decision based on the best available science, always guided by that science”.
On 10 June 2020, Mr Johnson gave the impression that the government was not in favour to reopen schools before September for scientific reasons, contrary to what Mr Hancock had texted on WhatsApp that Mr Johnson should not be spectating at schools again because “Everyone there accepts, there won’t be more on schools until September”.
Responding to BBC journalist Laura Kuensberg about schools, Mr Johnson said, “Of course, we would have liked to be at a place where we could get the rest of the primary back for a couple of weeks before the summer holidays, we wanted to do that if it was possible and feasible”.
It revealed, one exchange on 28 December 2020 appeared to show Mr Hancock had messaged an aide during a video conferencing with then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson to converse about the rising number of Covid cases in the nation.
At that point, the plan was for all primary schools in England to return to normal in January, and for the opening of secondary schools must be delayed by two weeks to provide time for mass testing to be set up.
Mr Hancock, who wanted to keep the school closed, described Sir Gavin as battling “tooth and nail” to keep them open and created a ruckus over the issue.
From the leaked WhatsApp texts, Mr Hancock said that the reproductive rate, known as R, is “very close to one” and therefore “I think Slackie and Lee are right”, he added.
On 3 January 2021, the prime minister specifically insisted that “schools are safe” on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show.
But the next day, hours after pupils returned to schools, he announced the discontinuation of all educational institutions, as they “may act as vectors for transmission”.