The Covid Inquiry has heard evidence that ministers ignored advice not to frighten the public during the covid scam and opted for slogans that preyed on “fear and shame.”
According to The Telegraph:
The co-chairman of Spi-B, which reported to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the Covid Inquiry that they did not agree with some government communications, including from Matt Hancock, the then health secretary, who on one occasion urged young people not to “kill your gran”.
Prof James Rubin told the inquiry the Government was warned that frightening the public would not work, and denied he and his colleagues had tried to create a “culture of fear”.
The inquiry was shown messages revealed by The Telegraph’s Lockdown Files investigation in which Mr Hancock said he wanted to “frighten the pants off” the public.
In the Whatsapp messages on Dec 13 2020, the then health secretary asked special adviser Damian Poole: “When do we deploy the new variant[?]”, in reference to a new mutation of Covid found in Kent.
Asked if this was the sort of messaging his committee would advise, Prof Rubin replied: “No”.
He was then questioned about a discussion between Mr Hancock and Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, over the tier system in January 2021, when the head of the Civil Service said: “Small stuff ridiculous, ramping up messaging, the fear/guilt factor, vital”.
Asked if it was “completely in contrast” to recommendations he had given a few days before, Prof Rubin said his advice did not suggest that sort of messaging “at all”.
Prof Rubin said advisers had written a paper where they “set out a specific list of areas that messaging might consider” such as thanking the public for their help and stating it was unfortunate the situation had changed – while also being clear about the risks.
The inquiry heard he felt his advice and reports disappeared down a “black hole”.
Prof Rubin, who was shown the messages where Mr Hancock suggested “we frighten the pants off everyone with the new strain”, said he knew civil servants were engaged and understood advice, but could not say whether ministers listened.
“I think the stuff we were writing had an impact at a certain level, at an operational level, and that’s probably quite a good thing. At a ministerial level I don’t know. I’ve never met a minister. I don’t know how they operate. I don’t know what they read or what they don’t read.”
In his written statement, he added that misunderstandings of advice on making the public aware of risks had led to suggestions that Spi- B had sought to orchestrate a “culture of fear” throughout the pandemic.
He said criticism centred on “misreading” of advice and “glossing-over of the context at the time” and ignored reports which “repeatedly argued for the exact opposite.”
Prof Rubin’s team had advised that “focusing on worry on risk perceptions in communication is not recommended” and that messages solely based on “information, authority or fear/disgust will also likely be ineffective”.
He added that “Spi-B spent its time trying to work out how to support members of the community, not to scare them.
“We also cautioned against the use of fear in private conversations within Government.”