UK govt discussed using ‘fear’ and ‘guilt’ to make public follow COVID-19 rules

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The British government discussed using “fear” and “guilt” to coerce the public into following COVID-19 lockdown rules, leaked Whatsapp messages obtained by the Sunday Telegraph show.

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Then-health secretary Matt Hancock suggested that the government tactically release information about a new Kent variant in order to “frighten the pants off everyone” to ensure they followed the rules over Christmas of 2020.

The government had initially planned to relax restrictions for the holiday, u-turning at the last minute.

Hancock messaged an adviser on December 13, five days before the plan was dropped, discussing the possibility of London Mayor Sadiq Khan resisting a lockdown in the capital.

“Rather than doing too much forward signaling, we can roll pitch with the new strain,” the adviser said.

“We frighten the pants of everyone with the new strain,” Hancock said.

“Yep, that’s what will get proper behaviour change,” the adviser replied.

Hancock went on to announce the discovery of the new variant the following day.

In separate messages, it was revealed that the government purposely pushed a narrative that the COVID-19 situation was dire.

The government had stopped publishing a ‘watchlist’ containing data about the worst-affected areas.

Damon Poole, Hancock’s media adviser, said in a message that failing to publish the data could be advantageous because it “helps the narrative that things are really bad.”

Another exchange from January 2021 shows the head of the civil service, Simon Case, discussing “ramping up messaging,” saying that the “fear/guilt factor” was “vital.”

In a statement responding to the leaks, Mr Hancock said: “There is absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach.”

“All the materials for the book have already been made available to the Inquiry, which is the right, and only, place for everything to be considered properly and the right lessons to be learned.”

“As we have seen, releasing them in this way gives a partial, biased account to suit an anti-lockdown agenda.”

The messages were leaked to the Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott, who had obtained them from Hancock in order to write his book Pandemic Diaries.

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