Sunak suggested “manipulating the scientists” rather than the virus, according to Covid research

Rishi Sunak was heard saying the government should focus on handling its scientific advisors rather than the spread of Covid-19, as reported in the UK's pandemic response inquiry.

A series of diary entries from former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance were presented to the inquest on Monday.

Mr Sunak's comment was reportedly made in July 2020 as plans were being made to reopen the country after the first national lockdown.

A memo from Sir Patrick on July 2 read: “At the finance meeting earlier today they didn't realize the CMO (chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty) was there and the CX (then chancellor Rishi Sunak) said: ‘It's all a matter of handling scientists , they don't handle the virus.”

“Then they were upset when the CMO came in later and realized he had been there all along. The Prime Minister (then Prime Minister Boris Johnson) got angry and waffled for five minutes to cover his embarrassment.”

Mr Sunak was behind the Eat Out To Help Out programme, an initiative launched in August 2020 to launch restaurants and eateries after the lockdown.

Sir Patrick told the inquiry that scientists were not aware of the policy until it was announced.

But part of Mr Sunak's witness evidence was presented to the inquiry, with the now prime minister saying he did not recall “any concerns about the plan being raised during ministerial discussions”, including those involving Sir Patrick and Sir Chris .

Sir Patrick said: “We didn't see it before it was announced and I think others in the Cabinet Office said they didn't see it before it was made into policy. So we didn't participate in the path to that.”

He added: “I think it would be very obvious to anyone that this would inevitably cause an increase in the risk of transmission and I think that would be known by ministers.”

Asked about Mr Sunak's understanding of the risks, Sir Patrick said: “If he was at the meetings, I can't remember which meetings he was at. But I'd be very surprised if any minister didn't understand that these openings had a risk.”

No 10 could not have been considered if the Prime Minister had consulted scientists about the risk of transmission of the Eat Out to Help Out program before announcing it.

The Downing Street official said a number of people would be giving their views on the period, but “rather than answering each one piecemeal, it is appropriate to look at it alongside other evidence”.