Chris Whitty, England’s voice of calm authority during Covid crisis
During the height of the Covid crisis in the UK, Sir Chris Whitty, who would have likely been overwhelmed with responsibilities, was observed providing care to patients at a hospital in London.
During the 2020 Christmas weekend, the nation was experiencing its second and deadliest surge of the coronavirus. England’s chief medical officer was seen working as a practicing doctor in the respiratory ward at University College London Hospitals trust.
Compare this picture to one of Boris Johnson toasting at a party after the lockdown and it’s no surprise that the Guardian’s writer John Crace called Whitty “the unofficial prime minister of the country”.
Crace stated that anyone would prefer to listen to a brief period of Whitty instead of enduring thirty minutes of Boris’s nonsense.
As the pandemic progressed, Whitty quickly became known as the composed figure of power, the rational specialist leading the country’s efforts to combat coronavirus.
He represented the resurgence of experts in the public discourse nearly four years after Michael Gove, a former campaigner for Vote Leave, famously stated, “People in this country are tired of experts.”
The sudden change in perspective on this popular belief resulted in Whitty and his deputies frequently appearing alongside the prime minister and his cabinet representatives during press conferences. This led to a rise in fame for Whitty, who had previously been relatively unknown to the general public. His face even became available on merchandise such as mugs.
Although surveys indicated a strong belief in Whitty compared to Johnson and his team, there were times when public opinion became negative. Along with demonstrations outside of his personal residence, he also experienced an attack in St James’s Park in June 2021. Two individuals were found guilty for their involvement in the incident, which was recorded and posted on social media.
During his youth, Whitty resided predominantly in northern Nigeria. When he was a teenager, his father, who was employed by the British Council, was killed in Athens due to a mistaken identity.
In 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided him with a grant of $40 million (£31 million) for his research on malaria in Africa.
One year later, Whitty, a physician and epidemiologist – a researcher who examines the occurrence of illnesses – was selected as the top scientific advisor for the Department for International Development (DfID).
In addition to his responsibilities in medicine, research, and teaching, he is highly regarded by students as a skilled lecturer. In his free time, he also earned a law degree and an MBA.
Although the pandemic brought Whitty into the limelight, he had already gained significant experience as the chief scientific adviser for the Department of Health. During this time, he also served as the acting chief scientific adviser for the government when the military nerve agent novichok was deployed on the streets of Salisbury.
Whitty received education from Pembroke College and Wolfson College at Oxford, as well as the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Northumbria University, Heriot-Watt University, and the Open University.
He has previously testified in the initial part of the public inquiry into Covid-19, stating that the UK did not adequately consider ways to prevent the spread of the virus. He also listed numerous issues with the country’s preparedness.
According to Whitty, the main drawback was a lack of innovative thinking prior to the crisis. He stated that without direction from a high-ranking politician, the government’s scientific advisors would not have considered implementing nationwide lockdown measures.
He cautioned about a potential vulnerability in upcoming defensive measures, pointing out that the scientific advisory committee Nervtag, which specifically focuses on emerging respiratory viruses, neglects to address other potential pandemic risks, such as those transmitted through sexual contact.
During the inquiry, it was revealed that Whitty made a private comment referring to Rishi Sunak’s “eat out to help out” program in the summer of 2020 as “eat out to help out the virus.” He is expected to be questioned about this initiative during the inquiry.