Matt Hancock has been slammed for warning against mass demonstrations while standing next to an NHS test and trace tsar who also sits on the committee that allowed the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead.
The Health Secretary tonight pleaded with anti-racism protesters to avoid large crowds as he warned coronavirus ‘thrives on social contact regardless of what your cause may be’
But social media users were quick to point out that Mr Hancock did the briefing alongside Dido Harding who sits on the board of Cheltenham-organisers the Jockey Club who allowed the massive event to go ahead.
Scientists have dubbed the festival a ‘disaster’ and claim it accelerated the spread of coronavirus in the UK after 260,000 people flocked to the racecourse just days before lockdown began.
Matt Hancock (right) has been slammed for warning against mass demonstrations while standing next to NHS test and trace tsar Dido Harding (left) who also sits on the committee that allowed the Cheltenham Festival to go ahead
A former jockey herself before going on to run internet giant TalkTalk, Ms Harding was elevated to the House of Lords by her university friend David Cameron in 2014
Toby Earle wrote on Twitter: ‘Matt Hancock warning against mass gatherings while stood next to Dido Harding, who’s on the board of the Cheltenham Festival.’
Richard Dixon added: Lest we forget: Dido Harding, the UK government’s coronavirus trace-and-test mastermind who was at a daily briefing lectern today, is also a board member at the Jockey Club – the folks who gave us the teeming Cheltenham Festival just before lockdown.’
Darren Voltaire said: ‘Dido Harding is on the board of the Jockey Club which holds responsibility for the Cheltenham Festival where 250,000 were allowed to be packed in like sardines over four days between 10th and 13th March when the virus was really beginning to take hold.’
A former jockey herself before going on to run internet giant TalkTalk, Ms Harding was elevated to the House of Lords by her university friend David Cameron in 2014, and now works for the NHS running the track and trace service promised to lead the UK out of lockdown.
Scientists have dubbed Cheltenham Festival (pictured) a ‘disaster’ and claim it accelerated the spread of coronavirus in the UK after 260,000 people flocked to the racecourse just days before lockdown began
Baroness Harding has not publicly commented on the decision to allow Cheltenham to go ahead between March 10 and 13 – but the Jockey Club has insisted that it complied with Government advice at the time.
In today’s briefing, Mr Hancock explained that he understood that people ‘want to show their passion for a cause that they care deeply about’.
But he stressed the Government’s current social distancing rules restrict group gatherings to no more than six people, with the two metre restriction still having to be adhered to.
Social media users were quick to point out that Mr Hancock did the briefing alongside Ms Harding who sits on the board of Cheltenham-organisers the Jockey Club who allowed the massive event to go ahead
He said that ‘for the safety of your loved ones’ people should stick to the rules and not attend large protests.
His comments came after a statue of slave trader Edward Colston that was pulled down during an anti-racism demonstration last weekend was lifted out of Bristol Harbour.
Meanwhile, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said it planned to temporarily remove a statue of Scouts founder Robert Baden-Powell from Poole Quay over concerns it may be targeted by protesters.
The Government today published its first set of statistics setting out the initial performance of the NHS Test and Trace programme.
The data showed that some 8,117 people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England had their case transferred to the NHS system, of whom 5,407 (67 per cent) were reached, while 2,710 (33 per cent) did not provide information about their contacts or could not be reached.
Overall, 31,794 contacts were identified and, of these, 26,985 were reached and advised to self-isolate – 85 per cent of the total number of contacts.
Of the remaining 15 per cent (4,809), some were not reached, others said they were already taking action independently of the system and some simply refused to comply.
Mr Hancock said the numbers showed the programme had already had an impact in the battle against coronavirus as he praised people for isolating when they have been asked to.
He continued: ‘It is brilliant that the vast majority of people have done their civic duty and as we have worked through our plan and as we keep driving this virus down, let us maintain that spirit and fortitude that has helped us throughout this pandemic.
‘And that of course includes not attending large gatherings, including demonstrations of more than six people.
‘I understand that people want to show their passion for a cause that they care deeply about.
‘But this is a virus that thrives on social contact regardless of what your cause may be.
‘So please, for the safety of your loved ones, stay alert, control the virus and save lives.’
There have been numerous anti-racism protests across the UK in recent days with one on Sunday seeing the statue of Colston toppled and thrown into the harbour.
Bristol City Council posted a video clip on Twitter of the monument being fished out of the water this morning.
It tweeted: ‘Early this morning we retrieved the statue of Colston from Bristol Harbour.
‘It is being taken to a secure location before later forming part of our museums collection.’
It came as Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council said it planned to temporarily remove the statue of Baden-Powell from Poole Quay because of fears it could be targeted by activists.
The council said it wanted to ‘minimise the risk of any public disorder or anti-social behaviour that could arise were the statue to remain in situ’ while views on Lord Baden-Powell are shared.
Council leader Vikki Slade said in a statement issued on Wednesday: ‘Whilst famed for the creation of the Scouts, we also recognise that there are some aspects of Robert Baden-Powell’s life that are considered less worthy of commemoration.
‘Therefore, we are removing the statue so that we can properly involve all relevant communities and groups in discussions about its future, including whether a more educational presentation of his life in a different setting might be more appropriate.’