Second Covid lockdown 'could have been avoided', Chris Whitty says

Second Covid lockdown ‘could have been avoided’, Chris Whitty says

  • Sir Chris said lockdown became inevitable after overdoing easing of restrictions
  • READ MORE:  Whitty rejects claims scientists signed off on Eat Out to Help Out

A second Covid lockdown could have been avoided if more steps were taken to stop the virus spreading across England, Sir Chris Whitty told the Covid inquiry.

The Government’s Chief Medical Officer said the lockdown at the start of November 2020 was ‘inevitable’ because of ‘overdoing things’ during the summer.

He agreed with Hugo Keith KC, lead Counsel for the inquiry, that a fixed-period circuit breaker package of restrictions or tier system of geographically-defined limitations during the summer might have avoided the need for a second lockdown, or at least reduced the length people were told to limit social interactions.

And he echoed evidence of previous scientific witnesses to the inquiry when he confirmed he was not consulted on then-chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out hospitality scheme, but said he and others ‘should have been’.

The inquiry has already heard the scheme ‘confused’ the public by suggesting it was ‘safe for people to socialise’ before vaccines were available and when the risks from infection remained high.

The Government’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty told the Covid inquiry the second lockdown was unavoidable because of ‘overdoing things’ during the summer

The Government announced the second Covid lockdown on November 5 2020, it would last four weeks

Sir Chris told the inquiry at Dorland House in London: ‘I think there are a variety of ways we could have potentially at least have had a less onerous lockdown than we did on the second one.

‘The third one in my view, because it was a new variant I think, I would say probably we didn’t have many choices, but on this one I thought it was inevitable.

‘By the time it got to the stage of the second lockdown, given the principal aims of ministers to minimise mortality, I couldn’t see many options.’

He added: ‘My worry, and you will have seen this from my correspondence, was that we were kind of bunny-hopping potentially where we would accelerate into a bend unnecessarily and then have to slam on the brakes because it was clear we’d overdone things.’

Sir Chris said that by the weekend before the first lockdown was implemented on March 23, 2020, Britain was already in ‘deep trouble’ and could not afford to wait to see if earlier measures would bring the reproduction number for the rate of infection below 1 – crucial to slowing down the spread of the virus.

READ MORE: Covid Inquiry: Chris Whitty rejects claims from Rishi Sunak and Boris Johnson that scientists signed off on Eat Out to Help Out

Then-Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, 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

Mr Keith asked whether any consideration had been given to waiting to see the impact of earlier measures before deciding if this ‘final draconian step was indeed necessary’.

Sir Chris, giving evidence for a second day, said: ‘It wasn’t just a matter of trying to pull it down just below one.

‘It was really trying to shrink this wave as fast as possible. So I think I don’t recall any serious debate that said at this point ‘let’s wait’.

‘I think the debate at this point was: the numbers here are looking reasonably stark.’ 

Sir Chris also revealed that the first Covid restrictions brought in were the ‘antithesis’ to Boris Johnson’s ‘whole philosophy’, but he made the move as he was concerned over where the outbreak was heading.

However, Sir Chris said he was not convinced that ‘all parts of the Downing Street machinery’ were ‘seized of the urgency’ of action against Covid in early March 2020.

Elaborating on which part of the ‘system’ may not have fully understood, Sir Chris said: ‘I think actually it was a relatively widespread lack of understanding of where we were going to head. 

‘I think the people who had been heavily involved in looking at this, and you know certainly Mr [Dominic] Cummings, and many others, I think had realised by now that this was heading in a very difficult direction. 

‘But I don’t think everybody in the building did.’

He also said that while everyone wanted to avoid closing schools, it became clear keeping them open did not look like a safe option.

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