Cabinet Secretary warned Johnson to be 'brutally honest' about the effects of lockdown

Latest leaked messages show debate over Covid measures at the heart of government

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a cabinet meeting with Simon Case, left, in Downing Street.
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UK Cabinet Secretary Simon Case warned Boris Johnson about the “terrible” effects of lockdown on mental health, education and the economy, leaked correspondence has shown.

The nation’s most senior civil servant told Mr Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, that the government must be “brutally honest” with the public about those consequences, The Daily Telegraph reported.

Mr Case raised the concerns with Mr Johnson two days before the latter announced the second national lockdown in October 2020.

A number of messages Mr Case sent during the UK government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic were among the tens of thousands of WhatsApps from former health secretary Matt Hancock’s phone that were provided to the publication by Isabel Oakeshott.

The journalist, who obtained the records when she co-authored Mr Hancock’s memoir, has described lockdowns as an “unmitigated disaster”.

In his message, Mr Case wrote: “I think we have to be brutally honest with people. Full lockdowns optimise our society/economy for tackling the Covid R rate — but they are terrible for other outcomes (non-Covid health, jobs, education, social cohesion, mental health etc).”

The leaked exchanges also showed ministers expressing concern about “minor ailments” going unchecked.

Then-health minister Lord Bethell questioned the potential cancellation of a public health campaign urging people to check minor symptoms in September 2020, according to the Telegraph.

He told Mr Hancock: “It will lead to long-term capacity pressures as minor ailments turn into acute and more expensive problems.”

Mr Case was reportedly considering his position after becoming embroiled in the controversy surrounding the leaked correspondence.

In previous reported conversations, he described Mr Johnson as a “distrusted” figure, and suggested it was “hilarious” that travellers were being “locked up” in so-called quarantine hotels.

Updated: March 10, 2023, 10:45 PM