Ministers insist Boris Johnson DID have ‘up to date’ Covid data before delaying Freedom Day despite claims Matt Hancock ‘sat on’ evidence vaccines work against Indian variant

  • Ministers have dismissed claims that Matt Hancock sat on evidence vaccines effective on the Indian variant 
  • PHE study showed two doses of the vaccines work as well preventing hospital cases as on previous strains
  • Claims that information was not shared with ‘quad’ of ministers before decision to delay ‘Freedom Day’  

Ministers today insisted Boris Johnson did have ‘up to date’ information when he delayed Freedom Day – despite claims Matt Hancock sat on evidence that vaccines work against the Indian variant.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland dismissed the claims as ‘wrong’ as he said the controversial postponement to July 19 was made on the basis of ‘all the relevant data’.

The crucial call on whether to unlock was taken at a meeting of the ‘the quad’ – made up of Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and Mr Hancock – on June 13.

However, according to the Sunday Telegraph the Health Secretary was aware of a Public Health England study into the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines on June 10.

The report suggested that two doses of vaccine are as effective at stopping hospitalisations from the now-dominant Indian variant as they were against previous strains.

PHE also provided a written analysis that they sent to Mr Hancock on June 12. But the information was not included on briefing papers for the quad gathering, according to the newspaper.

Critics have argued that developments in the outbreak since have shown the delay was not necessary, and called for ‘Freedom Day’ to be brought forward to July 5.

Asked about the claims on Sky News this morning, Mr Buckland said: ‘The data was provided to the Prime Minister and other members of that Cabinet committee in the most up to date way before the decision was made on Monday, and those taking part in the meeting had all the relevant data in the most up to date way before the decision was made. 

‘There’s no question of the Prime Minister not being cited on important data, it was provided to him and other members of the committee in the normal way as people would expect.’ 

The crucial call on delaying Freedom Day was taken at a meeting of the ‘the quad’ – made up of Mr Johnson, Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove (left) and Matt Hancock (right) – on June 13 

Cabinet minister Robert Buckland swatted away allegations that Mr Hancock withheld the crucial information, telling Trevor Phillips on Sky News this morning: ‘I’m afraid that report is wrong’

The blue line on this graph shows projected third wave hospital admissions based on the old vaccine date, and the red line the more optimistic projection based on the new data  

The blue line on this graph shows projected third wave hospital occupancy based on the old vaccine date, and the red line the more optimistic projection based on the new data 

The blue line on this graph shows projected third wave deaths based on the old vaccine date, and the red line the more optimistic projection based on the new data 

The blue line on this graph shows projected third wave infections based on the old vaccine date, and the red line the more optimistic projection based on the new data 

Mr Buckland also swatted away the row that erupted after Dominic Cummings revealed private messages from the PM at the height of the pandemic last Spring calling the health secretary ‘f****** hopeless’. 

‘To bandy around words like that I think does nobody any service at all,’ he said. 

‘He’s been a most useful and dynamic Health Secretary who enjoys our full support.’

Reminded that they were the Prime Minister’s words, Mr Buckland said: ‘I’m not going to get into text messages or WhatsApp messages sent between people and then disclosed in a rather unfortunate way.

‘I don’t believe that’s actually a reflection of the reality. I’ve been working within Cabinet, within Government, throughout this crisis and I don’t detect any suggestion that somewhere there is anything but the fullest confidence of what Matt has been doing and what he continues to do energetically.’  

Tory MPs have questioned whether Mr Hancock had tried to ‘bounce’ the Prime Minister into extending the final set of restrictions to be lifted.

However a government source suggested some ‘equivalent’ data by Sage’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) had been included which showed similar figures.

A day after the senior ministers’ meeting in Downing Street, Mr Johnson announced that the curbs would remain in place for four weeks until July 19 – although he referred to this as a ‘terminus date’.

The PHE data was released following the press conference. 

Fifty-one Conservative MPs rebelled when the extension of the restrictions came to a vote in the Commons, but it passed easily with the support of Labour. 

The models presented to Boris assumed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab would reduce hospitalisations by between 77 and 87 per cent after two doses.

But the PHE study found two doses of the Astra Zeneca vaccine was 92 per cent effective at preventing hospitalisation. The Pfizer jab is even more effective – with a 96 per cent reduction in the risk. 

Backbench Tory MPs are already ciriticising the government for being too cautious in delaying the easing of restrictions. Huw Merriman pointed out that the assumptions from the time of the roadmap in February have turned out to be an overestimate of how many would end up in hospital with Covid.

Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘The Government desperately needs to have a ”red team” of people – economists, software experts and modellers, and other scientists – who come in and look at the data from a different perspective.’ 

Sir Iain added: ‘We seem to be only getting the information which allows the judgment to be made for delay.’

In an exchange with Boris Johnson from March 27 last year Dominic Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing

On April 27, Mr Johnson apparently messaged Mr Cummings to say that PPE was a ‘disaster’ and that Michael Gove should take over from Mr Hancock

Mr Cummings gave a brutal assessment of the performance of the government during an exchange of messages in April 2020

More than 700,000 Covid-19 jabs were booked on the day the NHS vaccination programme was opened up to people aged 18 to 20.

People in England made 721,469 appointments through the national booking service on Friday, more than 30,000 an hour or more than eight every second.

NHS England said this does not include appointments made through local GP-led vaccination services, or people getting jabbed at walk-in centres.

Everyone aged 18 and over is being urged to arrange a jab if they have not yet had one, as the health service enters the final push to protect the country against the virus. 

On Saturday, thousands of jabs were administered after stadiums and football grounds in London were transformed into mass vaccination centres.

Giant jab clinics were set up at the Olympic Stadium, Stamford Bridge, Tottenham Hotspur FC, Charlton Athletic FC, Selhurst Park and Crystal Palace Athletics Centre.  

NHS chief executive Sir Simon Stevens said: ‘This pandemic has been a challenge for everyone but the various restrictions have hit young people particularly hard.

‘That’s why it’s good news that Covid vaccinations are now open to all adults across the country, and already well over three million people in their twenties have now had their first jab.

‘So if you’re 18 and over and haven’t yet had yours, now’s the time. It’s the single easiest way to protect yourself, keep friends and family safe, and hopefully give us all our summer freedoms back.’

At the debate on the extension, Mr Hancock said the Indian ‘Delta’ variant had ‘given the virus extra legs’ and so the delay was necessary ‘to get those remaining jabs into the arms of those who need them’.

The Health Secretary, who has been in post for three years, has suffered a slew of accusations and embarrassing revelations over the last month aimed mostly at his handling of the pandemic.

Most recently Mr Hancock was caught in a toe-curling encounter as he was forced to insist that he ‘doesn’t think’ he is ‘f****** hopeless’ after it was revealed the Prime Minister described him as such in texts to adviser Dominic Cummings.

WhatsApps revealed by Mr Cummings included brutal assessments by the PM at the height of the crisis in March and April last year – including repeatedly branding Mr Hancock ‘hopeless’ over PPE and testing and suggesting Michael Gove would have to take over. 

In one exchange from March 27 last year, Mr Cummings criticised the Health Secretary over the failure to ramp up testing. Mr Johnson replied: ‘Totally f****** hopeless.’ He then tried to call his senior aide three times without managing to get through. 

Another from the same day saw Mr Cummings complain that the Department of Health had been turning down ventilators because ‘the price has been marked up’. Mr Johnson said: ‘It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.’ 

Mr Cummings leaked his texts with the Prime Minister after launched attacks on Mr Johnson, his fiancée Carrie Symonds and Mr Hancock over their personal conduct during an appearance before MPs earlier this month.

In the seven-hour-long evidence session he said the Health Secretary ‘should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things, including lying’.

He also alleged Mr Hancock had lied to the PM over the disastrous policy of not testing older people for Covid before they were discharged from hospital into care homes.

Mr Johnson has since attempted to play down the emergence of his private WhatsApps and insisted he has ‘complete confidence’ in Mr Hancock.

A Department of Health spokesman described the accusations against Mr Hancock as ‘categorically untrue’. 

They added: ‘Information which was provided by PHE was shared across Government before the meeting.

‘Analysis and work on the scientific paper continued over the weekend before it was published as soon as it was ready on Monday.’ 

 

 

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