UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock resigned from his position in the British government Saturday a day after he apologized for being photographed kissing a longtime friend he recently hired as an advisor.
The announcement came one day after British tabloid The Sun published photos that appeared to show Hancock kissing his longtime friend and aide Gina Coladangelo in his office at the Department for Health. The photos were captured May 6, according to The Sun, which claimed Hancock was having an affair with Coladangelo.
Cross-household contact was not yet permitted under the UK COVID-19 guidelines when the photos were taken last month.
“I’ve been to see the Prime Minister to resign as Secretary of State for Health and Social care… Those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them, and that’s why I’ve got to resign,” Hancock said in a video posted to Twitter.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve done to protect the NHS at the peak, to deliver that vaccine rollout — one of the fastest in the world — and I look forward to supporting the government and the Prime Minister from the backbenches,” he added.
“I want to reiterate my apology for breaking the guidance and apologise to my family and loved ones for putting them through this,” Hancock wrote in a resignation letter to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, according to CNN.
The Sunday Times previously reported that Hancock, who is married to another woman, quietly hired Coladangelo to work in his office last year in a role that paid £15,000-a-year.
Cummings has released a series of potentially damaging claims about his former boss in recent weeks, including suggestions that the prime minister said that he would rather have bodies “pile up” than allow a further coronavirus lockdown.
Downing Street has largely refused to either confirm or deny the most damaging specific claims made by Cummings.
Boris Johnson called his Health Secretary Matt Hancock “totally f*****g useless,” according to bombshell messages published by the prime minister’s estranged former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.
Hancock last week accused Cummings, who left Downing Street acrimoniously last year, of failing to produce evidence to support his claims that Hancock had lied frequently to the prime minister throughout the coronavirus pandemic.
Cummings told MPs that Hancock should have been sacked for dishonesty on multiple occasions, and said the former secretary Mark Sedwill had told the prime minister in mid-April that he had “lost confidence” in the health secretary.
Cummings on Wednesday said he had felt compelled to publish official documents and screenshots of WhatsApp messages between himself and the prime minister to verify those claims, saying that Downing Street and Hancock himself had “openly” lied last week to protect Hancock’s reputation.
In a blog post, Cummings alleged that Johnson had frequently been frustrated with Hancock’s performance throughout the coronavirus pandemic last year.
“Hancock gave a fictitious account to MPs last week and portrayed himself as a heroic figure who had been in agreement with the PM throughout the crisis,” Cummings said in the blog post, which was published on Substack.
In one screenshotted exchange apparently between himself and the prime minister, Cummings appeared to highlight the urgent need for the government to ramp up COVID-19 testing across the country, and criticising Hancock for missing targets he had previously set.
Johnson replied: “Totally f*****g hopeless.”
In another, later the same day, Cummings said that officials had “totally f****d up” procurement of medical ventilators – which were needed to treat COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Johnson replied: “It’s Hancock. He has been hopeless.”
“The PM has supported this fiction and ordered the No 10 press office to support many arguments he knows are lies,” Cummings said in the blogpost.
“If No 10 is prepared to lie so deeply and widely about such vital issues of life and death last year, it cannot be trusted now either on covid or any other crucial issue of war and peace.”
A new coronavirus strain may be fueling an uptick in spread across the southern UK, according to Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“Over the last few days, thanks to our world-class genomic capability in the UK, we have identified a new variant of coronavirus, which may be associated with the faster spread in the South of England,” Hancock said Monday, speaking in the House of Commons. He pointed to “very sharp exponential rises in the virus across London, Kent, parts of Essex, and Hertfordshire.”
Hancock added that there’s no evidence to suggest this new strain is more deadly or resistant to vaccines. But it could be more transmissible, he said: “Initial analysis suggests this variant is growing faster than the existing variants.”
Hancock said that at least 60 different local authorities had seen infections from the variant, the World Health Organization had been notified, and UK scientists were doing detailed studies, according to the BBC. He did not publicly provide any further data about the variant, however.
London and large parts of Southern England will be placed into “tier 3,” the strictest level of lockdown, from midnight on Tuesday, Hancock said. That means roughly 34 million British people are now in tier 3 areas, in which pubs and restaurants are closed.
However, scientists are urging calm until more is known about the coronavirus variant Hancock mentioned.
“It is incredibly frustrating to have such a statement made without any associated evidence,” Lucy van Dorp, a geneticist studying the coronavirus’ genome, told Business Insider, adding that it’s unlikely that one mutation would play a big role in changing disease severity for a virus.
‘It’s too early to be worried’ by this new variant
Like all viruses, the coronavirus mutates over time. So scientists have been regularly collecting samples of the coronavirus sine the beginning of the pandemic and genetically sequencing them to track how it changes.
According to Alan McNally, a professor of genomics at the University of Birmingham, testing labs across the UK “picked up” the new variant in the last few weeks.
“It is important to keep a calm and rational perspective on the strain as this is normal virus evolution and we expect new variants to come and go and emerge over time,” he said in a statement to UK’s Science Media Centre. “It’s too early to be worried or not by this new variant, but I am in awe of the surveillance efforts in the UK that allowed this to be picked up so fast.”
The variant includes a mutation in the virus’ spike protein, called N501Y. That spike is what the coronavirus uses to invade our cells, so it’s possible a tweak there could make it easier for the virus to infect our bodies.
“Efforts are under way to confirm whether or not any of these mutations are contributing to increased transmission,” the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, the group that identified the variant, said in a statement.
“There is currently no evidence that this variant (or any other studied to date) has any impact on disease severity, or that it will render vaccines less effective,” it added.
Mutations don’t necessarily impact a virus’ behavior
Other scientists are similarly hesitant to make conclusions based on the news of this new variant.
“There is no evidence that the newly reported variant results in a more severe disease,” Wendy Barclay, head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said in a Science Media Centre statement on Monday.
Hodcroft said that most mutations her team has seen so far are harmless, and the coronavirus is mutating slowly. There is one variant, called 614G, that might be more transmissible than the original virus, she added, but that question is not settled.
Jonathan Ball, a molecular virologist at the University of Nottingham, struck a cautious tone in his own statement to the Science Media Center.
“The genetic information in many viruses can change very rapidly and sometimes these changes can benefit the virus – by allowing it to transmit more efficiently or to escape from vaccines or treatments – but many changes have no effect at all,” he said.
Ball added: “Even though a new genetic variant of the virus has emerged and is spreading in many parts of the UK and across the world, this can happen purely by chance. Therefore, it is important that we study any genetic changes as they occur, to work out if they are affecting how the virus behaves.”
This story has been updated with additional information. It was originally published on December 14, 2020 at 10:02 a.m.