Matt Hancock has failed to provide scientific evidence for including English children in rule-of-six restrictions during the Covid pandemic.
The Covid Inquiry heard how Helen Whately, the health minister, warned there was no “robust rationale” for including children aged under 12 in the rule-of-six restrictions – a view first revealed by The Telegraph in the Lockdown Files.
The rule of six was introduced across Britain in September 2020, banning social gatherings of more than six people.
Although Scotland and Wales did not include children under 12, England took the view that they should count, meaning many larger families could not meet up with relatives or friends.
Whatsapp messages between Mr Hancock and Ms Whately show that by October 2020, health advisers, ministers and MPs were questioning why children were being penalised, yet the Government did nothing to help families.
Mr Hancock told the inquiry the Government had not lifted lockdown restrictions on children because they were an infectious risk to elder relatives and it would have taken the R number above one.
“That is the clear medical position, and understandably because one of the things we discovered was that children could pass the disease on to children whilst both were asymptomatic and they could then pass it on to elder relatives,” he said.
“Of course I understand the impact on children. I have three children of my own. And of course I you know, I shared a wish that we didn’t have to do any of this but we did. And the reason we did was because otherwise more people would die. I think there was a robust rationale for it.”
However, he did not provide scientific evidence to back up his claim.
Studies have since shown that children and schools were not responsible for the spread of Covid, with outbreaks in schools largely following those in the wider community, and teachers largely responsible.
Dan Paskins, director of UK impact at Save the Children, said: “We still do not have clear medical, scientific or expert advice from either Matt Hancock or Michael Gove as to why children in England were kept in lockdown longer than their friends in Scotland and Wales.
“He said children mixing risked pushing the R-number up too much, but we have yet to see any scientific papers or evidence considering the impact on this had children been allowed to socialise like their parents.
“We can only conclude this is because children were not at the forefront of the minds of UK decision-makers, including the former health secretary.”