Head of Covid investigation condemns villains and trolls who harassed pandemic experts after Chris Whitty warned threats and intimidation could prevent experts from helping with a future crisis
- Head of Covid research Baroness Hallett condemned scoundrels who mistreated scientists
- Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty was approached in June 2021 by two obsessives
The head of the Covid investigation yesterday condemned the thugs and trolls who mistreated leading scientists during the pandemic.
Heather Hallett spoke out after Britain’s Chief Medical Officer warned that the threats and intimidation could discourage experts from helping in a future crisis.
Chris Whitty spoke from experience as a covid obsessive forced him into a headlock in a park in June 2021.
Lady Hallett said at the end of his testimony yesterday: ‘It’s wrong for so many reasons, but I know how disturbing it can be, so I hope people think twice – but of course they never do, do they? – before unnecessarily engaging in harrowing acts.
“There are so many different ways to express different opinions, why do we have to have personal abuse?”
Heather Hallett spoke out after England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty (pictured) warned that the threats and intimidation could discourage experts from helping with a future crisis
Chris Whitty spoke from experience as a covid obsessive forced him into a headlock in a park in June 2021
Sir Chris made no reference to charges or abuse when asked to comment on potential issues related to experts making themselves available to help with the pandemic.
Flu deaths hit a five-year high
More than 14,500 flu-related deaths were recorded in England in the 2022/23 season, estimates show.
This is the highest figure for five years, according to the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).
Another 5,500 deaths are likely to be related to extreme cold weather — the highest number in a decade.
The NHS was under pressure on three fronts last winter, with very cold temperatures, a flurry of Covid-19 infections and the first major flu wave since the pandemic.
Experts said the disease had a greater impact due to ‘lower population immunity’, with little or no flu in the previous two winters when Covid measures were in place.
The number of flu-related deaths was estimated at 14,623 according to the UKHSA.
But he told the London hearing that the level of abuse and threats against volunteers was “deeply concerning”. He added: ‘We have to say very emphatically that society really appreciates the work of these people who put an enormous amount of time into it. Usually without compensation.’
Hugo Keith KC, lead lawyer for the inquiry, asked Sir Chris what could be done to stop the ‘disgraceful behaviour’. Sir Chris replied: ‘The most important thing is to make sure that the people who do this appreciate and understand that their work is very thoroughly valued by the great majority of the population, which I think it is.’
Lady Hallett said she was “surprised and sorry” when she learned about the abuse. Jonathan Chew, 24, was jailed for eight weeks and ordered to pay £1,058 in costs and damages after admitting to harassing Sir Chris and interfering with a police officer.
Sir Chris began his testimony by describing how he saw firsthand the effects of the pandemic while working in hospitals. He said, “I saw the extraordinary impact and devastation for individuals and their families.”
He admitted the UK was “unable to scale up quickly” to deal with the pandemic in areas such as testing.
And he said there was a lack of “radical” thinking in the way experts considered the potential for pandemics other than flu-based health crises. He added: “The system is very good at what it does, but we have to recognize that there is a hole in the system.”
Matt Hancock, health minister during the pandemic, was called on Tuesday to testify for the investigation. Nicola Sturgeon, former First Minister of Scotland, appears on Thursday.
Sir Patrick Vallance, who served as the government’s chief scientific adviser from April 2018 to March 2023, told the inquiry that the lack of an industrial vaccine base prior to the pandemic was “benign neglect” leading to “highly significant impacts” on the country .
He said: ‘You need daily activities that you can scale up quickly and I think this is an element of resilience that needs to be thought about very carefully.’