Three years ago today Britain went into its very first national Covid lockdown. In a historic address to the nation, the then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson effectively sentenced everyone to house arrest.
Brits were told they could only leave their homes for food, exercise and their job ‘if it was absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home’.
Police forces up and down the country were given new powers to enforce the rules, which included stopping all gatherings of more than two people in public — excluding the people you live with.
Daily briefings from Downing St saw Mr Johnson update the nation on the outbreak and the country’s response, alongside his team of scientific advisers.
Among those most regularly featured were England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty and his then-deputy Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, as well as Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
MailOnline has rounded up what those key figures in the pandemic are doing now.
Daily briefings from Downing Street saw Mr Johnson (centre) update the nation on the outbreak and the country’s response, alongside his team of scientific advisers. Among those most regularly featured in Downing Street briefings were England’s Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty (left) and Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance (right)
Sir Chris became a familiar face while serving as England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) during the pandemic, appearing on TV almost daily during the first lockdown
Sir Chris Whitty
Sir Chris became a familiar face while serving as England’s Chief Medical Officer (CMO) during the pandemic, appearing on TV almost daily during the first lockdown.
He developed a fan following for his straight-talking, trustworthy and unflappable nature during televised briefings.
A range of merchandise was brought out in appreciation of Sir Chris — from mugs to T-shirts, and birthday cards to cardboard masks.
Some were adorned with the phrase ‘next slide please’, in reference to his catch-phrase during Downing Street briefings.
Boris Johnson’s advice on March 23
That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:
- shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
- one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
- any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
- travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.
That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.
You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No.
More recently, Sir Chris was at the centre of news attention after a trove of more than 100,000 leaked WhatsApp messages from Matt Hancock were shared with The Telegraph by journalist Isabel Oakeshott.
Exchanges show that Sir Chris warned ministers against enforcing the hated sex ban during Covid pandemic because ‘people aren’t likely to listen’.
Unlike the other two, Sir Chris is still the CMO for England, the UK government’s Chief Medical Adviser and head of the public health profession.
He also represents the UK on the Executive Board of the World Health Organization.
Sir Chris is also a practising NHS Consultant Physician at University College London Hospitals (UCLH) and the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, and a visiting professor at Gresham College, which provides free public lectures.
Sir Patrick Vallance
As the UK entered its first lockdown, Sir Patrick was No 10’s Chief Scientific Adviser.
He made headlines for his no-nonsense approach to the role and soon became known as one to deliver bad news.
Sir Patrick hit headlines when he crushed the nation’s hope of normality for Christmas Day 2020 as he warned in September that it may be six months before a vaccine is found.
He also accused Tory MPs and commentators, who criticised advice and modelling being given to ministers by SAGE, of ignoring evidence about the Omicron variant to fit with their political agenda.
As the UK entered its first lockdown, Sir Patrick was No 10’s Chief Scientific Adviser
The former president of research and innovation at GSK also became the centre of attention after the leaked messages from Mr Hancock’s revealed that he sent a message in August 2020 that implementing shielding for the most vulnerable had not been ‘easy or very effective’.
The Government’s top scientific advisor developed a reputation for publicly not following the political agenda after he dealt a hammer blow to Mr Johnson’s hopes of persuading workers to return to their offices in July, 2020.
He said there was ‘absolutely no reason’ to change the then-current work from home guidance and that the UK was ‘still at a time when distancing measures are important’ and that working remotely ‘remains a perfectly good option’.
Sir Patrick is still the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, which involves providing scientific advice to the Prime Minister and members of the cabinet.
But he is set to resign from the role, which pays up to £185,000, next month to become chairman of the Natural History Museum’s Board of Trustees.
Mr Johnson has credited Sir Patrick with playing an ‘instrumental role’ in ‘accelerating the science super prowess of this country’ and overseeing the vaccine rollout.
Sir Patrick is also a National Technology Adviser and Head of the Government Science and Engineering Profession.
Sir Jonathan Van-Tam
At the time of the first lockdown, Sir Jonathan was England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
Called JVT by colleagues, he became a regular figure on TV screens throughout the lockdown, as he imparted his expertise knowledge during some of the daily coronavirus conferences.
The Boston United fan was famed for his memorable metaphors, such as comparing Covid to a ‘goalkeeper that can be beaten’ and the vaccine rollout to the ‘glide path to landing this plane’.
He also explained the extreme temperature that coronavirus vaccine must be stored at is not like a yogurt. He said: ‘This is a complex product. It’s not a yoghurt that can be taken out of the fridge and put back in multiple times.’
At the time of the first lockdown, Sir Jonathan was England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer
JVT became a familiar face after sparking panic and worry across the UK in the early days of the Covid crisis, when admitting that the country may have to ‘live with’ the virus for years before a vaccine was found.
He also hit headlines in December, 2020 when he warned that Brits may wear face masks for years to come — even after a successful coronavirus vaccine becomes available.
JVT also clashed with other scientists during the pandemic, such as when claiming the outbreak would be ‘a lot calmer’ by Easter 2022, when others warned that it could take years to become a manageable, seasonal virus.
It was announced in January 2022 that JVT would step down from the role of deputy chief medical officer for England by the end of March that year.
Mr Johnson said Sir Jonathan made an ‘extraordinary contribution’ to the UK and provided ‘invaluable advice’ throughout the pandemic.
He returned to the University of Nottingham, where he was a professor of health protection before being seconded to the Department of Health in 2017, to join its executive team as Faculty Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Medicine & Health Sciences.
Three years since Covid first hit British shores, there have been 24.4m confirmed cases in the UK and more than 220,000 deaths.