The UK’s former Health Secretary plotted to “deploy the new variant” of Covid-19 to “frighten the pants off everyone” into complying with lockdown, leaked text messages show.
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The damning messages between Matt Hancock and media adviser Damon Poole in the run-up to Christmas 2020 show the behind-the-scenes planning to use “Project Fear” to prepare the British public for another Covid lockdown.
They are part of a massive trove of more than 100,000 WhatsApp messages obtained by the UK’s Telegraph, dubbed the Lockdown Files, showing how government ministers and officials used scare tactics to force compliance at the height of the pandemic.
In the conversation on December 13, revealed by The Telegraph on Saturday, Poole informed his boss that Tory MPs were “furious already about the prospect” of stricter Covid measures and suggested “rather than doing too much forward signalling, we can roll pitch with the new strain”.
“We frighten the pants of [sic] everyone with the new strain,” Hancock agreed.
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“Yep that’s what will get proper bahviour [sic] change,” Poole said.
“When do we deploy the new variant,” Hancock asked.
Poole then warned they needed to be “cautious”, saying the “big risk with the variant” was that “right wing papers go for a renewed push for let it rip on the basis the vaccines strategy is undermined”.
“That’s why we reassure on the vaccine,” Hancock replied.
At the start of December 2020, the UK had emerged from its second national lockdown, a one-month “circuit breaker”, and entered a tiered system which saw different areas of the country under different restrictions.
One week after those messages, Hancock did the rounds of national TV to spread the message. “The new variant is out of control and we need to bring it under control,” he told the BBC.
“This news about the new variant has been an incredibly difficult end to frankly an awful year, and it’s important for everybody to essentially act like they might have the virus. That’s the way that we can control it together.”
In another interview with Sky News he warned Covid cases in the “tier four areas” had “absolutely rocketed”. “So we’ve got a long way to go to sort this,” he said.
“Essentially, we’ve got to get that vaccine rolled out to keep people safe … I think given how much faster this new variant spreads it is going to be very difficult to keep it under control until we have the vaccine rolled out.”
In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, the CDC could not provide any documents supporting their claim that vaccines don’t cause new variants to appear.
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