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World News | Leaks from UK health minister rekindle raw pandemic debate

The LATAM Airlines plane hit the vehicle on the runway (Image: Twitter / @AirCrash_)

LONDON, March 2 (AP) Face masks have become rare these days in Britain as the coronavirus lockdown is lifted.

But as the government responded to the fast-spreading novel respiratory virus, more than 100,000 private messages sent or received by the health minister were leaked, and COVID-19 was once again making headlines.

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Comments by former health secretary Matt Hancock in 2020 have reignited bitter debate in a country where more than 182,000 people have died from the coronavirus. Could some deaths have been prevented if the lockdown had been imposed earlier, or would more people have suffered because the restrictions had lasted too long?

The nature of the leak also created a storm. Hancock shared his WhatsApp messages with journalist Isabel Oakeshott while they were working on a book, Pandemic Diaries. Oakeshott, in turn, handed the information to The Telegraph, which made a splash in a series of front-page stories.

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Hancock accused the reporter of “gross betrayal and treachery”, but Oakeshott argued she acted in the public interest.

Oakeshott told the BBC: “Millions of people are at stake, everyone in our country has been adversely affected by the disastrous decisions to repeatedly lock down the country, often for political reasons. is the most flimsy evidence.”

Hancock said there was no public interest because he had conveyed the information to a public inquiry into Britain’s handling of COVID-19, which is due to begin hearings later this year.

Critics say Oakeshott has a well-known political agenda. She called the lockdown a “disaster” and her partner is politician Richard Theis, leader of the Lockdown-skeptical Reform Party (formerly the Brexit Party).

The Telegraph report selectively cited the information to convey Hancock’s resistance to the idea of ​​others – including then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson – who were wary of strict restrictions.

Steven Barnett, professor of journalism at the University of Westminster, said Hancock’s leak was less about serving the public interest than “pushing an agenda that says the lockdown policy is wrong”.

“As often happens in print journalism in the UK, we get agendas driven by particular papers about what’s right and what’s wrong,” he said.

Others said Hancock had naively trusted Oakeshott because of his history of leaks.

In 2019, she revealed leaked memos in which Kim Darroch, the British ambassador to Washington, called the Trump administration dysfunctional and incompetent. The White House cut ties with the British envoy and Darroch had to resign.

In 2011, Oakeshott wrote a story exposing Vicky Pryce, an economist married to a member of Parliament, who lied to police to allow her husband to escape a speeding fine. Oakeshott later turned over her correspondence with Price to prosecutors. Both Price and her now-ex-husband ended up in jail.

The Telegraph report has stirred painful memories for many in the UK, which has one of the highest coronavirus death tolls in Europe. An article claimed Hancock ignored scientific advice to test everyone entering a nursing home for COVID-19, a lapse that resulted in thousands of deaths.

Hancock said the information had been deceptively edited. He said testing was limited in the UK and elsewhere at the time because of a lack of capacity.

Former junior health minister James Bethell defended Hancock, saying the information reflected the chaotic early days of the pandemic, when officials were working under intense pressure and with incomplete knowledge.

“For a while we were very unclear whether domestic pets could spread the disease,” he told Channel 4 News. “In fact, for a while we may have to ask the public to exterminate all cats in the UK.”

Lindsey Jackson, a spokeswoman for the pressure group COVID-19 Justice for Bereaved Families, said the leaks showed the importance of allowing families to question Hancock and other officials during public inquiries, “so we can be in the right place. To get full answers to our questions. Instead of having to relive the horrors of our loss through exposure.”

The revelations are the latest setback for Hancock, who was forced out of the Conservative government in June 2021 after breaching coronavirus lockdown rules by having an affair with an aide – in breach of a ban on mixing different households. Resign.

He remains a lawmaker but was suspended by the Conservative Party in November after he flew to Australia for several weeks to appear on the reality TV show “I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out of Here”.

On Thursday, Hancock apologized for the leak’s “impact on the many people – political colleagues, public servants and friends – who joined me in trying to get through the pandemic and save lives”.

“I will not comment further on any other stories or false allegations that Isabel will make,” he said in a statement. “I will respond to the substance, where appropriate, in the investigation so that we can build on the A full and objective look at what happened in the pandemic and why, with all the lessons rightly learned.” (Associated Press)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)

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