Coronavirus: Ministers fear Chris Whitty will step down if he fails to lock down

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Ministers were accused of being “under the sway” of the chief medical officer on Saturday evening, fearing he would resign or speak out if his push for strict lockdown measures were ignored.

The government is locked in a heated debate over what to do in the face of a second wave of Covid with growing concerns about the impact tougher measures will have on the economy.

A source said of Professor Chris Whitty: “He only has a medical record, so he doesn’t really take into account the economics. He is highly regarded and there are concerns that if the government defies his instructions or advice, it will let it be known.

On Saturday night, a source close to Professor Whitty denied that he had explicitly, or implied, given the impression that he would resign.

Ministers have been accused of being ‘under the sway’ of Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty, fearing he would resign if his push for strict lockdown measures were ignored

Although Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma are fighting to protect the economy, ministers tend to introduce tighter restrictions.

A senior conservative said: “If you talk to the treasury, people are tearing their hair out.

“The main problem is that we are driven by a huge panic on the part of scientists and doctors. Why don’t we report the additional deaths from stroke and heart disease caused by fear of going to hospital?

“Scientists never care about the economy. The government must stand up to them. But the entire health department is under their control.

A minister warned last night: “The more severe the lockdown, the more serious the economic crisis”.

A source close to a senior cabinet minister added: “The resulting financial damage will also affect people’s health. “

Professor Whitty “must be” listened to, said another source, “because if he resigns it is a massive loss of credibility for the government.”

Earlier reports that Professor Whitty threatened to resign have been strongly denied by the government.

Despite this, rumors continue to circulate about his hold on ministers.

“What he let them know is that he could leave,” the source said. “If he leaves, can you imagine what he might say in an interview?”

Supporters of tougher lockdowns are led by Professor Whitty, Chief Science Officer Sir Patrick Vallance and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma expressed concern over the impact tougher coronavirus measures will have on the economy

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Business Secretary Alok Sharma expressed concern over the impact tougher coronavirus measures will have on the economy

Steve Baker, the Conservative MP who sits on the Treasury Select Committee, said: “We asked the experts the impossible. Too many fundamental questions about our freedom have been asked of scientists.

No 10, including the prime minister, is “absolutely adamant against the national approach” to the lockdown, a government source said last night.

However, several ministers said they believed Mr Johnson’s contact with Covid’s death made him more cautious.

All home visits should be supervised

Visitors who see loved ones in nursing homes will be monitored at all times to ensure social distancing, according to new coronavirus guidelines.

The government’s winter plan, announced Friday, advises homes to limit residents to one constant visitor where possible, with an absolute maximum of two when needed.

The official advice is that meetings should be socially remote and take place outdoors or in a well ventilated room.

This means that local public health directors will have the discretion to authorize visitors – although they will have to stop if an area is deemed “at risk”.

Free personal protective equipment (PPE) will also be provided in retirement homes at least until next March.

“You might end up with the rule of six plus ‘staying home’ again,” a source familiar with the discussions said.

“The view shared by the majority of healthcare professionals is that you are not going to get people to shop if they think they are going to catch Covid.

“Keeping things open won’t save the business. Keeping things open when people are confident enough to go is what saves the business.

Meanwhile, members of the anti-lockdown group are promoting an approach that focuses on isolating vulnerable people while keeping the economy running.

One of them said: “The fundamental strategy must be to remove the vulnerable. You would do these stay at home tips, you’re not forcing people. Families are not stupid. Families care about their grandfather with kidney disease. Either they’re all careful or they won’t go to Grandpa.

But the “health hawks” said it was not a viable option because it affected too large a group. There are also concerns that the NHS letters to vulnerable people may not be “as precise” in their selection.

The source said: “You will basically have to lock up anyone who is receiving a pension. Then people would say I don’t do that. You end up stinging them, and they won’t anyway.

Meanwhile, Tory backbenchers unhappy with the lockdown measures are increasingly focusing on a September 30 vote on extending legislation that gives the government the power to take action.

MEPs, including Sir Desmond Swayne, are expected to call for more voice in Parliament on imposing measures.

A Conservative MP said last night: “Matt Hancock is part of the problem. He’s completely gripped by it, there’s a messianic feeling about it now.

Last night, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said: “The claim that the chief medical officer threatened to resign at any time is categorically false. “

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