eaked messages show Boris caved to Sturgeon during Covid
The wearing of face masks in schools was introduced in English schools after Boris Johnson was told it was “not worth an argument” with Nicola Sturgeon. The former prime minister pursued the policy despite England’s Chief Medical Officer, Sir Chris Whitty, saying there were “no very strong reasons” to support the move.
Scotland’s First Minister announced masks were compulsory in school corridors and communal areas in Scottish secondary schools before Mr Johnson sought advice on whether they should be worn in English schools.
In WhatsApp messages obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Sir Chris Whitty said: “No strong reason against in corridors etc, and no very strong reasons for.
“The downsides are in the classroom because of the potential to interfere with teaching. So agree not worth an argument.”
The next day, the Government announced secondary schoolchildren returning in September would be required to wear masks in corridors and shared spaces where it was difficult to maintain social distancing in places where lockdowns were in place.
That guidance applied to a third of a million pupils in secondary schools in Greater Manchester, parts of Lancashire, Leicester and West Yorkshire.
In other parts of England, schools were given the power to recommend face masks be worn in communal areas.
Mr Johnson wrote in a group WhatsApp a week before schools were due to reopen: “Folks I am about to [be] asked about masks in schools. Before we perform another u turn can I have a view on whether they are necessary?”
His communications director, Lee Cain, asked why Downing Street would “want to have the fight on not having masks in certain school settings”.
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Simon Case, the Permanent Secretary for Covid who was later promoted to Cabinet Secretary, warned “nervous parents will freak out” if children are wearing masks in Scottish schools, but not English ones.
But the then-PM realised he would be confronted over the issue after the World Health Organisation (WHO_ recommended on August 21, 2020, that children aged 12 and over should wear masks in situations where they were unable to maintain social distancing.
Ms Sturgeon had then introduced the policy for secondary school pupils to wear masks in corridors and communal spaces.
Mr Cain told the PM: “Considering Scotland has just confirmed it will I find it hard to believe we will hold the line. At a minimum I would give yourself flex and not commit to ruling it out.”
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He continued: “Also why do we want to have the fight on not having masks in certain school settings.”
Mr Case then said unless Sir Chris and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, “are willing to go out and say WHO and Scots are wrong”, he thought “some nervous parents will freak out” about it happening in Scotland, but not England, according to the Telegraph.
Sir Chris Whitty then replied there was no strong reasons for or against the measure.
Allegations emerged today based on a leaked trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages obtained by the Telegraph which provide an insight into the way government operated at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been fighting claims he rejected advice while in the role to give coronavirus tests to all residents going into English care homes.
Mr Hancock’s spokesman said a report claiming he rejected clinical advice on care home testing was “flat wrong” because he was told it was “not currently possible” to carry out the tests.
A spokesman alleged the messages provided to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who was handed them by Mr Hancock while she worked on his Pandemic Diaries memoir, have been “spun to fit an anti-lockdown agenda”.
The Telegraph’s investigation revealed Sir Chris Whitty told the then-health secretary in April 2020 there should be testing for “all going into care homes”.
Mr Hancock described it as “obviously a good positive step”.
But the exchanges, from April 14, 2020, suggest Mr Hancock ultimately rejected the guidance – telling an aide the move just “muddies the waters” – and introduced mandatory testing only for those coming from hospitals rather than the community.
Allies of Mr Hancock said that was because a lack of testing capacity meant it was not possible to check everyone entering a care home.
A spokesman for Mr Hancock said: “These stolen messages have been doctored to create a false story that Matt rejected clinical advice on care home testing. This is flat wrong.”
Mr Hancock “enthusiastically accepted” the advice from Sir Chris on April 14.
But “later that day he convened an operational meeting on delivering testing for care homes where he was advised it was not currently possible to test everyone entering care homes, which he also accepted”.
“Matt concluded that the testing of people leaving hospital for care homes should be prioritised because of the higher risks of transmission, as it wasn’t possible to mandate everyone going into care homes got tested.”
The spokesman added: “He went as far as was possible, as fast as possible, to expand testing and save lives. This story categorically shows that the right place for this analysis of what happened in the pandemic is in the inquiry.”
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