Hancock and top civil servant joked about quarantined travellers

By Lisa James
03/03/2023
Home » Hancock and top civil servant joked about quarantined travellers

Matt Hancock, Boris Johnson and others joked about people who had been forced to quarantine during lockdown, leaked WhatsApp messages reveal.

The latest set of leaked messages published in the Telegraph show the-then Health Secretary chatting with a top aid about passengers being ‘locked up’ in ‘shoe box’ rooms.

Another message shows then Prime Minister Boris Johnson describing a £10,000 fine handed out to two people who broke quarantine rules as ‘superb’.

It’s also been revealed the UK’s top civil servant told Mr Hancock he didn’t have ‘much sympathy’ for airlines and airports.

The messages are among thousands that Mr Hancock handed over to journalist Isabel Oakeshott while she was co-writing his Pandemic Diaries book. She has since passed them on to the Telegraph.

In a WhatsApp conversation between Mr Hancock and the UK’s most senior civil servant, Simon Case, on 16 February 2021, Mr Hancock said: “We are giving big families all the suites and putting pop stars in the box rooms.”

Mr Case replied: “I just want to see some of the faces of people coming out of first class and into a premier inn shoe box.”

Replying to a question from Mr Case that asked: “Any idea how many people we locked up in hotels yesterday?”, Mr Hancock said: “None. But 149 chose to enter the country and are now in Quarantine Hotels due to their own free will!”

Mr Case replied: “Hilarious.”

On 5 February 2021, Mr Hancock wrote in a message: “The airlines and airports are totally offside. Completely unhelpful. Don’t get that there’s a war on.

“And of course v hard for them as they’re going bust.”

Mr Case replied: “Yes, tough for them, but they are just so horribly self-serving. I can’t summon much sympathy for them any more when I see them.”

People in the industry said the situation was far from ‘hilarious’.

Advantage Travel Partnership CEO Julia Lo Bue-Said told Travel Gossip: “The news reports today on Matt Hancock and a senior civil servant’s exchange make for very uncomfortable reading.

“I am personally shocked and disappointed that a Cabinet Minister could be so flippant and mocking of those in hotel quarantine when the travel industry was in such a state of distress.

“We are coming up to the three-year anniversary of COVID and whilst the industry has made great strides in its recovery, many businesses continue to bear the scars of what was the trade’s most challenging period on record. 

“Remarks of this nature, at a time when people were dying from COVID-19 and unable to visit their loved ones, quite frankly leaves me speechless.

Former Kuoni and Der Touristik boss Derek Jones tweeted: “Remember when holidaymakers were being forced to quarantine in hotels (at their own expense) bringing the travel industry to its knees? Well, Matt Hancock (ITT paid guest) and his mate Simon Case thought it was a proper laugh… hilarious in fact!”

Derek told Travel Gossip: “For me, the bit that really takes the biscuit is the contrast between the impact their actions were having and the levity of their WhatsApps.

“It’s worth remembering that the majority of people they ‘locked up’ were travelling because they were desperate to visit their family. In many cases, very sick and elderly parents. There was nothing hilarious about it at all.”

Travel agent Paul Dayson, who owns Spa Travel, in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire, said: “I’m seething.

“I can’t actually say what I feel as I am so angry.

“They had no idea what they were doing and a year and a half on, we are still dealing with the fallout of the problems he created.

“We are finding people not sure about travelling. They are still nervous.”

Graeme Brett, co-owner of Westoe Travel in South Shields, said: “People in the travel industry were suffering with our mental health, worried that our businesses weren’t going to survive and they were just laughing at us.”

Graeme, who is co-founder of the TARGET agent support group, added: “It is obscene.

“It shows the Government had, and still has, so little support for the travel industry.”

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