Monday, January 17, 2022

Jonathan Van-Tam’s failure to mention Boris Johnson in his resignation could tell a story of its own

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There’s no evidence that Van-Tam’s departure had anything to do with Partygate, but the lack of reference will raise questions today

Van-Tam, one of the pre-eminent public service stars for the past two years, was rightly praised by many when the announcement was made. Health Minister Sajid Javid said it was an honor to work with such a “national treasure”.

As a major blow to the metaphors for extended football and train travel used to describe the Covid pandemic, Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has announced that he is ending his role as England’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer. The sober doctor hangs his boots on the nail as the wingback of the government press conference and returns to the sidelines of science.

Boris Johnson tweeted this thanks to the man known as the “JVT” for his “tremendous contribution to our country and invaluable advice during the pandemic.”

Van-Tam’s own resignation letter paid tribute to Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty, “the CMO team, my fellow scientists, public health professionals and clinicians” and “the myriad numbers that work behind the scenes”.

But what was missing from that list was a reference to the Prime Minister. Now it is worth noting that there is no evidence whatsoever that Van-Tam’s departure has anything to do with Boris Johnson’s handling of “Partygate”. And he, along with Whitty, often reprimands journalists for misinterpreting or overinterpreting their comments.

The JVT may actually find time to praise the ministers before the end of the day. Yet for some, the omission of Johnson’s name in his appeal for honors may simply tell its own story.

Van-Tam has seldom bumped into ministers or the prime minister, although I remember the prime minister gently exhorting his deputy chief physician in December 2020 for encouraging the public to consider wearing masks and using hand sanitizer in the long term as there are many in The Far East.

In May 2020, Van-Tam underscored his reputation for candor when he threw something scientific shadow at the idea of ​​a 14-day quarantine for foreign visitors. Such a plan only “makes most scientific sense … when the incidence in the host country is low” and when people come from countries “where the incidence is high,” he said.

In other words, when we have a high rate of covid, there may be no point in pulling up the drawbridge. It is also questionable, as the recent Omicron wave demonstrated, why closing the door on South Africa (and India for the Delta Wave) was ineffective.

Above all, however, it was Van-Tam who, after Dominic Cummings’ “eye test” at Barnard Castle, had the courage to declare: “The rules are clear … and in my opinion they apply to everyone.”

With career-threatening revelations about the Bring Your Own Booze beverage party during the initial lockdown, the Prime Minister may wish he had followed such informed advice from JVT all along.

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