Chris Whitty gives evidence at Covid inquiry – UK politics live | Politics

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Whitty says he does not accept that he warned against over-reacting at start of Covid inquiry

Whitty says doctors have to give advice on both sides of equation. If a patient needs an operation, even if a doctor thinks it is worthwhile, they have to give advice about the potential downsides, he says.

He suggests this influenced his thinking on advice about lockdown measures.

Q: To what extent did the need for data impact on your advice early on?

Whitty says, by the time Sage was giving advice, he was supporting the Sage advice.

From 16 March onwards, Sage was very clear about the need for action.

But, when you give advice, it is also important to acknowledge the downsides too, he says.

Q: There is a difference between accepting the downsides, and saying you should not over-react. Did you warn against over-reacting?

Whitty says he was not deviating from the position of Sage.

The view of Sage was that, to avoid deaths, action was necessary.

But it was also clear that downsides would be involved.

He says ministers needed to know that. If they were not aware, there was a risk of them reversing course.

He says this approach was appropriate. Any doctor or civil servant would accept this was the correct thing to do.

Q: Did Sage itself warn against the dangers of over-reacting from early January to early March?

Whitty says he does not think Sage would have used the phrase over-reaction. It was about emphasising the downsides.

Q: The documentary evidence seems to suggest you were prominent in warning of the risk of over-reacting. Is that fair?

Whitty says he rejects Keith’s characterisation of this as “over-reaction” because that implies he thought the reaction should not happen. His concern was to make sure the downsides were understood.

Whitty says he was wary of introducing Covid interventions too early because he knew poor people would lose out most

Q: Were you co-chair of Sage, or was Sir Patrick Vallance the lead chair?

Whitty says he and Vallance agreed that it was best to have a permanent chair. So Vallance chaired the meetings when he was there. But technically they were co-chairs.

Q: Did you try to form a common position on advice from Sage, and on technical advice to government?

Yes, says Whitty.

He says in one respect he was a member of Sage. He gave opinions in his own capacity.

But, once Sage had agreed a position, he saw it as his role to express the Sage position – not his own, personal view. Vallance also expressed the collective Sage view.

Q: Was it hard to ensure you were always singing from the same hymnsheet?

Whitty says the Sage process helped establish a common position. Where Sage did not consider a matter, he and Vallance tried to agree a common view before the advised government.

Q: Was there a tension between you and Vallance? Jeremy Farrar said this in his book.

Whitty says Farrar, who is a colleague and a friend, had a book to sell. He says the differences between him and Vallance were small.

Q: Farrar in his book, and Vallance in his diary, say you were more cautious, and more inclined to wait until moving to measures.

Whitty says they should be “very careful of the narcissism of small differences”. The differences were very small.

But he was very clear that the impacts of measures like cocooning (a precursor to lockdown) would be highest in areas of deprivation.

He says, with the benefit of hindsight, he thinks they went “a bit too late” in terms of introducing measures in the first wave.

He says he was probably further in the “let’s think through the disadvantages” camp as the impact of interventions was being considered.

Q: Did the system of international collaboration work well?

Whitty says, in the circumstances, it worked as well as could be expected.

Q: Can you give examples?

Whitty says, for every new wave of Covid, the first information came from the countries involved.

And he says, with the original Wuhan wave, they at first relied on Chinese science.

There were many groups. But they all involved sharing information.

When the UK had the Alpha wave (called the Kent variant at the time), it was the UK sharing its information with other countries.

Q: Was there no aspect on the pandemic on which you did not advise?

Whitty says he would not put it like that. He says he felt it important to advise on issues where advice from a scientist or doctor would be useful.

He says there was a limit to what they could do. There were only 20 people in his office, he said.

Q: But there were no issues on which you could not advise?

Whitty says quite often his office said they thought it was not right for them to advise on a particular matter.

Whitty says, as CMO (chief medical officer) for England, he matches what the CMOs do in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But he says he also advises the government on health on UK matters, and as CMO for England he has certain international responsibilities.

He says, when Covid first emerged in January, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam led on the response. He was one of three deputy chief medical officers, and his responsibility was health protection. But, by the end of January, Whitty says he was leading on this issue

Chris Whitty

Chris Whitty Photograph: Covid inquiry

Keith is asking about the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), which is headed by Whitty.

Q: Did your ability to be CMO as well as CEO of NIHR help?

Whitty says overall this was beneficial. He was able to combine the strategy for medical research with strategy for Covid. But he says doing both roles meant he was “quite stretched”.

Whitty starts giving evidence to Covid inquiry

Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England and chief medical adviser for the UK, is giving evidence now.

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel for the inquiry, is asking the questions.

Dame Heather Hallett, the chair, points out that Whitty has already given evidence. Here is a report of his evidence in module one, which looked at pandemic preparedness.

Keith starts by saying that, for module two, looking at how the government responded to the pandemic, Whitty has produced a corporate witness statement and a fourth personal one. These run to 340 pages, he says. He says Whitty has also given the inquiry hundreds of document.s

UK borrows less than expected this year as Hunt lines up giveaways

The UK government borrowed less than expected in the first seven months of the financial year as Jeremy Hunt puts the last-minute touches to a series of pre-election giveaways in his autumn statement tomorrow, Phillip Inman reports.

If you are one of those Conservative MPs who believe that the secret to electoral success is tax cuts (are there any Tory MPs who don’t?), then the splash headlines in this morning’s papers will be very welcome. Here are three of them from rightwing papers.

Laura Trott, the new chief secretary to the Treasury, was giving interviews this morning and she confirmed the papers were right to anticipate tax cuts. She told Times Radio:

We have turned a corner. Inflation has halved. That is really significant for people at home. We know how tough things have been.

Real wages are, for three months, now ahead of inflation – again, that’s really important to kind of making a difference to how people feel.

So we can now talk about tax cuts and focus on growth, and that is what we’re going to be doing.

Patrick Vallance says he considered resigning during Covid because of threats to his family

In one of his witness statements published last night, Sir Patrick Vallance also said that he had considered resigning during Covid because of threats he was facing. As the BBC reports, Vallance said:

Like many others I received abuse and threats and I was concerned for the wellbeing and safety of my family.

At times those factors did lead me to question whether I should continue.

I also found people breaking the lockdown rules very difficult and considered what I should do in response, but decided that I would help most by continuing with my job.

Prof Sir Chris Whitty arriving at the Covid inquiry this morning.

Prof Sir Chris Whitty arriving at the Covid inquiry this morning. Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PAGovernment accused of economic blackmail after omitting Northern Ireland from latest levelling up funding

Rory Carroll

Rory Carroll

The government has been accused of “economic blackmail” after omitting Northern Ireland from levelling up funding because of its political vacuum.

Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said yesterday the region would not receive anything from the latest allocation, which will fund 55 projects in England, Wales and Scotland. “Given the current absence of a working executive and assembly, the government is not proceeding with this round of the levelling up fund at this time,” it said.

Stormont collapsed in February 2022 when the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) walked out to protest post-Brexit trading arrangements that treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

Sammy Wilson, a DUP MP, said the funding cut was an “outrageous” attempt to blackmail the party into reviving power-sharing. He also accused the government of siphoning money to Conservative-held seats in England.

Conor Murphy, a Sinn Féin assembly member, said the decision was a “cynical attack on ordinary people” and that Northern Ireland was paying the price for the DUP’s “reckless boycott”.

Claire Hanna, an SDLP MP, said: “The Conservative government don’t ever need an excuse to under-invest in our region but the DUP have given them that cover on this particular fund.”

Northern Ireland received allocations in two previous rounds and was led to expect another allocation – the department placed advertisements in local media that used images of Belfast with the declaration “Levelling Up is here”.

Chris Whitty expected to say he regrets saying people would not tolerate long lockdown in Covid inquiry

Good morning. Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and chief medical adviser for the UK, is giving evidence all day to the Covid inquiry. The session starts at 10am, but we have already had an insight into one of the points he might make from a witness statement from Sir Patrick Vallance published by the inquiry last night. In it, Vallance says Whitty regrets saying “fatigue” might stop people putting up with a long lockdown.

Extract from Patrick Vallance’s witness statement

Extract from Patrick Vallance’s witness statement Photograph: Covid inquiry

This was in one of three witness statements from Vallance published by the inquiry last night, after the government’s former chief scientific adviser finished giving evidence in person.

In his evidence Vallance said Whitty had initially been more reluctant than others to support an early lockdown at the start of the Covid crisis. This wasn’t a great secret because in those very early press conferences Whitty argued that, if the government were to introduce restrictions on what people could to too early, there was a danger that people would get tired of complying, and start reverting to normal behaviour, at a point where Covid was still a threat. This is what Vallance is referring to when he talks about Whitty introducing the concept of “behavioural fatigue”.

This later became highly controversial not just because it was wrong – people were willing to comply with lockdown restrictions for a long time (perhaps surprisingly) – but also because there does not seem to be much evidence to support the concept in the first place. Scientists on SPI-B (the Scientific Paendemic Insights group on Behaviour) subsequently said the idea did not come from them.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, and chief medical adviser for the UK, gives evidence to the Covid inquiry.

10.15am: Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the Bank’s monetary policy reports.

11.30am: No 10 holds a lobby briefing

After 3pm: David Cameron is due to speak in the Lords for the first time as foreign secretary in a debate on the trade (comprehensive and progressive agreement for Trans-Pacific partnership) bill.

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Updated at 10.42 CET

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