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A new set of documents released late last week in the U.K. as part of the “Lockdown Files” revealed U.K. scientists were aware of the COVID-19 “Alpha variant,” but withheld data from government officials until just before Christmas 2020 — leading to lockdowns over the holidays that year.
Part of an ongoing release by The Telegraph, the documents also included additional details about how U.K. Parliament members made public health decisions based on political, rather than scientific, criteria — including fast-tracking the vaccines even though government ministers knew the virus wasn’t deadly enough to warrant it and medical advisers warned against it.
Other documents showed how government officials’ fear of being labeled racist factored into how they made public health decisions.
The first release of the Lockdown Files — private WhatsApp messages between U.K. health officials, including former health secretary Matt Hancock — generated substantial media coverage in the U.K., but U.S. media interest was minimal and quickly tapered off.
Scientists mum on Alpha variant until just before 2020 holiday season
The latest Lockdown Files show U.K. scientists knew of the Alpha variant as early as Sept. 20, 2020 — but didn’t inform government officials until Dec. 11, 2020.
The timing raises questions about whether the announcement was withheld intentionally, so as to align it with the 2020 holiday season.
Sharon Peacock, professor of public health and microbiology at the University of Cambridge, chairs the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium, which sequences and analyzes the virus. She reportedly was aware of the variant in September.
Hancock discussed the variant with his media adviser, Damon Poole, in WhatsApp messages dated Dec. 13, 2020.
Hancock said it was “a total outrage” that he was not informed about the existence of the variant. Poole said that “back then, [scientists] wouldn’t have known the implications.”
Nevertheless, it appears that Hancock sought to take political advantage of the situation. He spoke with then-Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove and “floated cancelling Christmas,” which Gove said he could “see the point of.”
At the time, the U.K. had entered into its second lockdown, but a temporary easing was scheduled to take effect Dec. 18. On Dec. 19, then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the cancellation of Christmas, in response to the spread of the Alpha variant.
Documents previously released as part of the Lockdown Files showed that on Dec. 13, 2020, Hancock and Poole discussed using fear and guilt as “vital tools” to ensure compliance with new lockdown measures.
Poole suggested to Hancock that “we can roll pitch with the new strain,” referring to the Alpha variant, to which Hancock responded, “We frighten the pants off everyone with the new strain.” Poole replied, “Yep that’s what will get proper bahviour [sic] change.”
Peacock, in a statement published by The Telegraph, disputed the implication that an announcement about the Alpha variant was withheld, saying:
“I completely reject the factual inaccuracies and deeply personal attacks contained in these leaked messages.
“Genome data alone cannot confirm whether a particular variant is more transmissible. Looking back, Alpha was first detected in very low numbers in September but was one of thousands of different variants worldwide.”
Medical advisers warned against fast-tracking vaccines
U.K. government medical advisers believed COVID-19 wasn’t deadly enough to fast-track the development of vaccines, and instead emphasized the need for safety, according to the latest Lockdown Files.
In WhatsApp messages exchanged Feb. 29, 2020, with Hancock and other members of government, Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty said:
“There will be a lot of good vaccine candidates that enter early clinical trials in the next few months. The rate limiting steps are late clinical trials for safety and efficacy, and then manufacturing.
“For a disease with a low (for the sake of argument 1%) mortality a vaccine has to be very safe so the safety studies can’t be shortcut. So important for the long run.”
Nevertheless, on Dec. 8, 2020, the U.K. became the world’s first country to administer COVID-19 vaccines to the general public.
Previous releases of the Lockdown Files revealed that in April 2020, Hancock and media adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin had discussed how “pushing on vaccine” and being “first out of the blocks on vaccine” would be “politically beneficial.”
This strategy was described as “purely a comms/political thing.”
Politicians worried about optics of locking down certain communities
In deciding whether to impose local lockdowns, Hancock and his advisers were concerned about potential accusations of racism and targeting areas politically opposed to the ruling Conservative party.
The U.K.’s national lockdown ended July 4, 2020, but throughout that summer, local lockdowns were implemented in areas with a high COVID-19 caseload.
With COVID-19 feared to be spreading fastest in poorer, densely populated areas with large Black and Asian communities, Hancock was warned by advisers that they could be labeled “racists” if those areas were locked down while neighboring areas were not.
In response to these concerns — and citing fears the government was “very white” — officials mobilized non-white cabinet ministers, including Kemi Badenoch, Priti Patel and Nadhim Zahawi, to spread the government’s public health message to these communities.
Hancock also was warned that “race riots” could ensue if the government decided to lock down “white working-class” areas.
Government ministers feared they were failing in their messaging efforts. Lord James Bethell, then-health minister in the British House of Lords, said the government’s “marketing … is not good — very Waitrose and not kissfm.”
Waitrose is an upscale U.K. supermarket chain, while Kiss FM is a dance music radio station with a youthful and mostly urban target audience.
UK government uncomfortable with lab leak theory
The Lockdown Files also revealed that the U.K. government censored passages in Hancock’s book, “Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story of Britain’s Battle Against COVID.”
According to The Telegraph, Hancock wrote in the original manuscript of his book that he felt “the Chinese explanation — that the virus being discovered close to a government science lab in Wuhan was coincidental — ‘just doesn’t fly.’”
However, the U.K. Cabinet Office took issue with these passages when it reviewed Hancock’s manuscript, as part of a process that all former government ministers are expected to follow, the Telegraph reported.
For instance, an original version of Hancock’s manuscript read:
“Given how cagey the Chinese have been, I think we have to treat their official version of events — still the Wuhan thing – with considerable scepticism.
“Global fear of the Chinese must not get in the way of a full investigation into what happened.”
The revised version read:
“Though the international consensus and the government’s position is that the virus originated at the Wuhan wet market, I remain sceptical. There must be a full investigation into what happened.”
These revisions were accompanied by a memo from the U.K. Cabinet Office stating that the government believed the appearance of COVID-19 near the Wuhan Institute of Virology was “entirely coincidental,” adding:
“This is highly sensitive and would cause problems if released. Must be clearer that it is supposition rather than revealing any confidential information received from inside government. Should also be clear that this is not HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] views or beliefs.”
Journalist Isabel Oakeshott is co-author of Hancock’s book — and the figure who released the tranche of Hancock’s WhatsApp messages to The Telegraph. She has claimed that “upsetting government is the [U.K.] Government’s biggest taboo.”
In response, a spokesperson for U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said March 8 that there were “still questions that need to be answered about the origin and spread of COVID-19,” adding: “The U.K. wants to see a robust, transparent and science-led review and believes all possibilities remain on the table until that is concluded.”
These statements came after an increasing number of U.S. government branches and intelligence agencies publicly stated they now support the lab leak hypothesis as the most probable origin of COVID-19, while congressional hearings and legislation also largely lent support to this theory.
Files elicited strong reactions in the UK
The release of the “lockdown files” elicited strong reactions from public figures and the general public in the U.K., which were then shared by The Telegraph.
British journalist, television presenter and author Rachel Johnson — sister of Boris Johnson — wrote that she had “profound misgivings about lockdown” from the start, stating that her father was pursued by police for alleged lockdown violations while her “lonely” mother “endured care home prison.”
Lockdowns “must never, ever, happen again,” she wrote.
Calling Hancock “slithy,” columnist Allison Pearson said he “should be arrested for wilful misconduct in public office” and must “be dragged before a Select Committee and made to answer for his actions and the vast hurt they have caused.”
Jacob Rees-Mogg, former leader of the British House of Commons and a Conservative, said decisions about lockdowns and other COVID-19 countermeasures were made by a “quad” of political figures, and that he and other members of Parliament were denied evidence needed to make an anti-lockdown case.
Esther McVey, a Conservative member of Parliament and television presenter, wrote that the U.K.’s public inquiry into the response to COVID-19 must answer “inconvenient questions” that must “go beyond the direct costs of the disease and quantify the unintended damage that COVID policy inflicted.”
In justifying her decision to release Hancock’s WhatsApp messages, Oakeshott has accused the official public inquiry of moving slowly and warned of a “whitewash.”
Camilla Tominey, associate editor of The Telegraph, wrote that it is “time for the lockdown nostalgics to confront the true horror of what Britain lived through.”
British physician Karol Sikora, Ph.D., said backlogs in the U.K.’s National Health Service as a result of COVID restrictions led to “thousands of non-COVID excess deaths” — but that he was called a “killer” for opposing lockdowns.
Fraser Nelson, editor of The Spectator, compared the U.K.’s response unfavorably to that of Sweden, which never imposed lockdowns or mask mandates. He questioned how the U.K. ended up with more than twice as many excess deaths as Sweden and warned that “Britain may well repeat its lockdown blunders sooner than anyone thinks.”
Oakeshott shared messages she received from ordinary individuals once the release of the Lockdown Files began.
One message read:
“I’ll never forgive them for what they did to my six-year-old son, who after months of being isolated from his friends told me he ‘couldn’t feel anything anymore.’”
Another reader wrote:
“In the long term this will prove the politicians have no hiding place from their incompetence and power-mad behaviour. Thank you again.”
U.S. media mostly ignored Lockdown Files
The Lockdown Files provided a revealing look into how a major world government undertook and implemented public health policy decisions on COVID-19 vaccines and countermeasures — in a country where the Alpha variant emerged and which was the first to launch COVID-19 vaccinations.
But U.S. media paid scant attention. An analysis conducted by The Defender of major American media outlets revealed almost none covered the Lockdown Files.
The outlets examined in the analysis included ABC News, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, the Boston Globe, CBS News, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Chicago Tribune, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, The Hill, the Los Angeles Times, MSNBC, Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Times, NPR, Politico, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Washington Times.
From these, only the Wall Street Journal (three articles) and Bloomberg (one article) carried stories about the files, their release or their contents.
An examination of a sample of left-leaning “alternative” news outlets, including Democracy Now, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The Intercept, The Nation and Truthout, revealed none of these outlets carried any stories about the Lockdown Files.
Coverage was more frequently found in right-leaning “alternative” news outlets, including Breitbart (two articles), The Epoch Times (three articles), the Gateway Pundit (one article) and Newsmax (one article).
Remarking on the lack of coverage in the American mainstream and left-leaning press, Michael Rectenwald, Ph.D., author of “Google Archipelago: The Digital Gulag and the Simulation of Freedom” and a former New York University liberal studies professor, told The Defender:
“It is not surprising in the least that the ‘woke covidian’ media, which represent and serves the totalitarian ‘woke covidians’ in state power, utterly ignored the U.K. ‘lockdown files.’
“After all, the revelations from these WhatsApp files blatantly display that former health secretary Matt Hancock and his colleagues not only acted out of ‘political expediency,’ but more accurately out of a sadistic impulse to punish the population in order to increase their own power and enhance their political influence, even as they utterly flouted their own mandates.”
According to Rectenwald, even though the revelations directly implicated current and former members of the U.K. government, they may nevertheless have hit too close to home for the U.S. political and media establishment.
“The same can be said about officials in the U.S. and the world over. The U.S. contingent of the media does not want to reveal to the public the unscientific, arbitrary and purely punitive character of the measures taken during the ‘pandemic’ to control, manipulate and brainwash the population into accepting their totalitarian dictates.
“As with everything else under ‘woke covidian’ totalitarianism, the criminals in government are being protected by the criminals in the press.”