The UK Government briefly considered ordering people to kill their pet cats during the coronavirus pandemic amid fears they could be spreading the disease.
Former health minister Lord Bethell said the concern about pets underlined how little was known about Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020.
“What we shouldn’t forget is how little we understood about this disease,” he told Channel 4 News.
“There was a moment we were very unclear about whether domestic pets could transmit the disease.
“In fact, there was an idea at one moment that we might have to ask the public to exterminate all the cats in Britain.
“Can you imagine what would have happened if we had wanted to do that?
“And yet, for a moment there was a bit of evidence around that so that had to be investigated and closed down.”
Lord Bethell was Matt Hancock’s deputy in the Department of Health and Social from 2020 to 2021.
His comments came after The Daily Telegraph began publishing details of tens of thousands of leaked WhatsApp messages exchanged between Hancock and other senior figures during the pandemic.
Hancock gave the messages to journalist Isabel Oakeshott as they collaborated on his memoirs, but she subsequently handed them to the Daily Telegraph, which has published a series of stories based on the correspondence with fellow ministers and officials.
Ms Oakeshott said she was threatened by Hancock in a late-night message after the newspaper began publishing its stories.
Hancock said: “I am hugely disappointed and sad at the massive betrayal and breach of trust by Isabel Oakeshott.
“I am also sorry for the impact on the very many people – political colleagues, civil servants and friends – who worked hard with me to get through the pandemic and save lives.”
He said there was “absolutely no public interest case for this huge breach” because all the material used for his Pandemic Diaries book was given to the Covid-19 public inquiry.
Oakeshott said she would not get involved in a “slanging match” with Hancock “because it wouldn’t be pretty”.
“He can threaten me all he likes,” she told BBC Radio 4’s Today.
“There are plenty of things I can say about his behaviour, by the way, that I’m not going to do – at least not at this stage – because this is not about Matt Hancock. It is so much bigger than that.”
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