Sunak 'referred to as Dr Death' by science adviser over Eat Out to Help Out

Rishi Sunak introduced the Eat Out to Help Out scheme while he was chancellor. Credit: PA

Rishi Sunak was referred to as "Dr Death" over his Eat Out to Help Out policy during the coronavirus pandemic by one of his top scientific advisers, it has been suggested at the Covid inquiry.

The inquiry was shown WhatsApp messages between members of Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), in which Dame Angela McLean said "Dr Death the Chancellor" in one message, adding: "In ons (sic) you'd see it."

Giving evidence, epidemiologist John Edmunds - who received the message - was asked if Dame Angela was referring to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which allowed people to get discounts on restaurant meals after the lifting of lockdown.

"Honestly, it's so long ago but it could well be," he said.

Number 10, when asked during a briefing for journalists, said it would "not provide a running commentary" on an ongoing inquiry and refused to comment.

It has previously been suggested the policy contributed to a significant rise in Covid-related deaths and it has been criticised a number of times during the inquiry.

Professor Lucy Yardley, co-chairwoman of Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (Spi-B), also hit out at the policy on Wednesday, and the British Medical Association labelled it as confusing.

She said: “It was during the summer and that was when there was a really missed opportunity.

“That was when the infections were low and we could have all hopefully kept them low if everybody had understood how to resume activities safely, and had understood that only if we did that would we be able to avoid or minimise the need for further lockdowns.

“But instead, the Eat Out To Help Out scheme made people think that it was safe and that actually it was your duty to meet people and that wasn’t going to lead to more infection spread.”

The BMA said: “The Eat Out to Help Out initiative encouraged social mixing and confused public health messaging during 2020, suggesting that it was safe for people to socialise before vaccines were available and when the risks of Covid-19 remained high."

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