Covid row erupts between health experts after Vallance branded Whitty 'delayer' over lockdown

​Sir Patrick Vallance has been giving evidence at the covid enquiry

Sir Patrick Vallance has been giving evidence at the covid enquiry

George Bunn

By George Bunn

Published: 21/11/2023

- 15:01

It comes as Boris Johnson has been accused failing to prevent deaths by reacting too slowly to Covid-19

Two of Britain's scientific advisors during the Covid-19 pandemic had disagreements that led to "friction", it has been claimed.

Sir Chris Whitty was privately referred to as “a delayer” after “palpable tension” between him and Sir Patrick Vallance.

The Covid enquiry has heard how Sir Patrick, the chief scientific adviser during the pandemic wanted to introduce the first national lockdown more quickly than Whitty.

The scientist was apparently worried about the number of deaths from the knock-on effects of shuttering the country.

Sir Chris Whitty

Sir Chris Whitty is set to give evidence to the inquiry this week


This disagreement led to “friction” between the two men.

The pair were known for standing either side of the then prime minister Boris Johnson at daily press conferences to keep the public informed.

Johnson was instinctively against the idea of lockdowns and has been accused by some critics of failing to prevent deaths by reacting too slowly to the emerging threat from coronavirus.

However, the enquiry has heard how his two advisors disagreed on when to lockdown.

Sir Chris Whitty, Boris Johnson and Sir Patrick Vallance


Vallance made an entry in his own diary in February 2021 in which Whitty had spoken to him about the inquiry they knew was coming, and whether the lockdown in March 2020 had been imposed too late.

He wrote: “He was a delayer of course.”

Vallance also told the inquiry that Sir Chris was a public health specialist and was rightly concerned about the impact of what were termed non-pharmaceutical interventions, such as telling people to stay at home.

He added that he did not personally have the same worry, as: “I was more on the side of we need to move on this, but I think that’s partly why the two of us found it useful to work together."

"I think sometimes I would want to push and he might not, and sometimes he was right and sometimes I think we should have gone earlier.

"This was an occasion when I think it’s clear that we should have gone earlier."

The inquiry is not questioning whether lockdowns should have happened at all.

Boris Johnson is set to give evidence to the enquiry next month.

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