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Government advisers called Sunak ‘Dr Death’ during pandemic, Covid inquiry told

19 Oct 2023 3 minute read
Rishi Sunak during a media briefing in Downing Street. Photo Pippa Fowles/Crown Copyright/10 Downing Street

UK Government advisers referred to Rishi Sunak as “Dr Death” during the pandemic, WhatsApp messages shown to the Covid-19 Inquiry have revealed.

The inquiry also heard that putting the country into full lockdown to mitigate the impact of the virus was a “necessary evil”.

The correspondence between epidemiologist Professor John Edmunds and Professor Dame Angela McLean – now chief scientific adviser to the Government – took place during a meeting in September 2020.

Dame Angela messaged Prof Edmunds, referring to “Dr Death the Chancellor”, the inquiry was told.

Prof Edmunds told the inquiry the reference “could well be” about the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, which was devised by then-chancellor Mr Sunak and deployed a month earlier in a bid to kick-start the restaurant industry following lockdown.

Asked about the “public impact” of Eat Out To Help Out, Prof Edmunds said: “To be honest, it made me angry.”

He said the Government had been “taking the foot off the brake” in easing restrictions but “to put the foot on the accelerator” seemed “perverse”.

In response to seeing the WhatsApp messages, Naomi Fulop, a spokeswoman for Covid-19 Bereaved Families For Justice UK, said the inquiry “has made clear that there was absolutely no consultation with the Government’s scientific advisers on Eat Out To Help Out”.


“It’s unbearable to think that if it wasn’t for Rishi Sunak’s reckless, unscientific and callous approach, my mum might still be with me,” she added.

“When our current chief scientific adviser has referred to our Prime Minister as Dr Death, how can any of us have faith in our Government if another pandemic strikes?”

Prof Edmunds said he did not want to blame Eat Out To Help Out for the second wave, but said the “optics” around the scheme were “terrible”.

He said he understood the restaurant sector needed support, but that this “was not really just supporting them”.

“They could have just given them money,” he added. “This was a scheme to encourage people to take an epidemiological risk.”

In response to the comments, inquiry counsel Hugo Keith said: “To make it clear, there is very little or there’s weak epidemiological evidence to show that infections in the areas in which people took up the scheme went up significantly. Your point is at the optics of it.”

Prof Edmunds said advisers were measuring public behaviour in August and at the time there was a change.

He added: “I wouldn’t say it was Eat Out To Help Out, but it was contributing.”

Dame Angela also referred to a “f***wit” in her messages, which Prof Edmunds inferred was in reference to Professor Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine at Oxford.

Prof Heneghan also gave evidence on Thursday.

He was critical of the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic and was part of a group of experts who wrote to the UK’s chief medical officers in September 2020, calling for targeted measures such as segmentation and shielding of vulnerable groups instead of local or national lockdowns.

Prof Edmunds called the full lockdown in March 2020 a “necessary evil”.

“It was so urgent. The pressure … projecting forward you could see that the NHS would come under severe strain very quickly.

“And so action had to be taken. And although it was an extreme action, and in many respects regrettable, I think it was a necessary evil.”

The inquiry continues.

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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago

Dr Death eh!

A pair of serial killers in charge…

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago

They weren’t wrong. Eat out to die of Covid contributed significantly to the height of the bodies pile

6 months ago
Reply to  Sarah Good

Only because a segment of our communities went out and acted like buffoons. Where people sat at tables and stuck to the spacing it seemed to work but like most aspects of our lives there are people out there who just can’t use a bit of common sense and self control. Now with hindsight we know that such incontinence was a frequent problem in Downing Street !

6 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

The deadly airborne virus didn’t respect spacing, it still doesn’t . No10 tried to make it sound all jolly and nice and the “right thing” to do. They always try and qualify something as “the right thing” but with no evidence. Same with eat out.
Still annoys me when see jars of hand cleanser.

Sarah Good
Sarah Good
6 months ago
Reply to  hdavies15

You may be right but that sounds like speculation not backed up by any available data. Unfortunately in a pandemic I think the received wisdom is that you have to legislate against the population acting like big entitled babies, with the understanding that a smaller selection will still break the rules because they are stupid conspiracists. Many scenarios are run against empirical models of population behaviour (I have read) until the predicted death rate is seen as acceptable against the budget available. Basically, the responsible citizens had to suffer greater restrictions to balance the acceptable death rate because the irresponsible… Read more »

Last edited 6 months ago by Sarah Good
Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
6 months ago

“After 13 years of Tory law and order, there has never been a better time to be a criminal”

So says Ms Williams in the Guardian, using the word ‘anarchist’ to describe the nature of the UK government’s approach to politics.

As ‘Dr Death’ Rishi Sunak ‘glad hands’ some of the criminals (he would dearly love to join) who dictate politics around the globe his past begins to catch up with him…

6 months ago

Airborne virus, give people the silly idea that meeting in closed spaces is a good idea when proper controls were not in place. It was called at the time but the revolving door in No10 to the crank advisors was never shut.

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