'Boris virtually had smoke coming out of his ears... he was pacing round the room growling': Matt Hancock's Pandemic Diaries reveal Prime Minister's rage when he discovered Pfizer was trying to divert some of our vaccine supply to the EU

  • The former health secretary details the journey of getting the vaccine rolled out 
  • Reveals PM's rage at Pfizer trying to divert some of the vaccine supply to the EU
  • Also discusses the harrowing moment a patient was put on ventilator while he was on a night shift at Basildon Hospital

Our exclusive serialisation of Matt Hancock's Pandemic Diaries yesterday revealed the Health Secretary's soaring hopes as a Covid vaccine was approved amid the political infighting. Today, in the final part, he reveals the huge row at the heart of government over the supply of the vaccine.

In the final part of our exclusive serialisation of Matt Hancock's Pandemic Diaries, he reveals the huge row at the heart of government over the supply of the vaccine

In the final part of our exclusive serialisation of Matt Hancock's Pandemic Diaries, he reveals the huge row at the heart of government over the supply of the vaccine 

Friday, December 11, 2020

There's a new [more infectious] variant. This explains why the Covid numbers in Kent have been so stubbornly high.

Monday, December 14

I announced the new variant in a statement to Parliament. Even normally reasonable MPs are going tonto. Everyone can see Christmas falling apart, and judgment is going out of the window.

Thursday, December 17

A grim day dominated by the announcement of new tiers, which effectively cancel Christmas. Worse for me, they also scupper [wife] Martha's birthday dinner tonight, which was set to be our first night out in months. I feel terrible about it.

I've come to hate the tiers: the boundaries are impossible to draw sensibly, and the whole thing doesn't keep us together as a country. I hadn't appreciated how important that is.

Later JVT [Jonathan Van-Tam, Deputy Chief Medical Officer] called. He and the Prof [nickname for Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty] have worked out that since the first dose of the vaccine gives about four times the level of protection as the second dose, the best way to save lives might be to give the first dose to as many people as possible and then delay the second.

The former Health Secretary makes a statement on new Covid-19 tiers in a hybrid, socially distanced session of the House of Commons on December 17

The former Health Secretary makes a statement on new Covid-19 tiers in a hybrid, socially distanced session of the House of Commons on December 17

Friday, December 18

Boris has reluctantly caved to the inevitable and agreed to cancel Christmas. Frankly, we'd have been far better off saying it would be a Zoom Christmas from the start.

Saturday, December 19

There's no good time for Test and Trace to crumble, but this is literally the worst. There's a critical shortage of pipette tips. Our failure to get hold of these little bits of plastic has led to a backlog of 182,000 tests.

Meanwhile, various people, including vice-chairman of the 1922 Committee Charles Walker, are calling for my head over the Christmas farce. It's an irony, because I wasn't involved in the Christmas decision at all. Maybe I should have come in and played hardball over it right from the start — but I can't be Mr Miseryguts on everything.

Thursday, December 24

Boris has been fretting that America has now jabbed more people than we have. I had to explain last night that, as a proportion, that means we're six times ahead. Very unhelpfully, there's a major Covid outbreak at the largest testing lab in the country, in Milton Keynes, adding to the backlog.

Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing at Downing Street on December 24

Boris Johnson speaks during a media briefing at Downing Street on December 24

Friday, December 25

Today is my first real day off since summer.

Monday, December 28

There are now 20,426 people in hospital with the virus — more than at the peak of the first wave.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Millions of children returned to school today, only to be told schools are closing again tomorrow. After sleeping on it, Boris agreed we have no choice but to go for another national lockdown.

Primary school children in Knutsford, Cheshire arrive for their first day back after Christmas on January 4

Primary school children in Knutsford, Cheshire arrive for their first day back after Christmas on January 4

Friday, January 8

There's a fake NHS video doing the rounds purporting to be a public service announcement to 'Covid hoaxers, mask deniers and general conspiracy theory nutcakes'. To a sombre soundtrack, a funereal voice instructs these people to 'shut the f*** up, mask the f*** up, grow the f*** up'.

It is dark perfection and I really, really wanted to tweet it. Indeed, I came within a whisker of doing so. Hospitals are now at breaking point — much fuller than in the first wave.

The thing I dread more than anything — that continually hangs over me — is having to issue directions on which critically ill patients to prioritise. Old people first, because they're more vulnerable, or young people, because they have longer to live? The Prof says any such awful decisions should be taken as locally as possible.

Fake NHS advice telling 'Covid hoaxers, mask deniers and general conspiracy theory nutcakes' to 'shut the f*** up, mask the f*** up, grow the f*** up'

Fake NHS advice telling 'Covid hoaxers, mask deniers and general conspiracy theory nutcakes' to 'shut the f*** up, mask the f*** up, grow the f*** up'

Friday, January 15

An extraordinary row with Pfizer bosses, who are trying to divert some of our vaccine supply to the EU!

When I got to the Cabinet Room, the PM practically had smoke coming out of his ears. He was in full bull-in-a-china-shop mode, pacing round the room growling.

What really riled him was the fact that only last night he was speaking to Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla, and Bourla made no mention of it! I was wary: when the PM is in this mood, he can really lash out. I knew I'd need to be as diplomatic as possible if I wanted to avoid getting caught in the crossfire.

Boris Johnson speaks with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and his team over zoom on January 14

Boris Johnson speaks with Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla and his team over zoom on January 14

Matt Hancock reveals Boris Johnson's rage at Pfizer trying to divert some of the vaccine supply to the EU and said he 'practically had smoke coming out of his ears'

Matt Hancock reveals Boris Johnson's rage at Pfizer trying to divert some of the vaccine supply to the EU and said he 'practically had smoke coming out of his ears'

Monday, January 18

Pfizer has relented. Following a robust exchange between Bourla and the PM, lo and behold, they've located an 'emergency supply', which is now heading our way.

Monday, January 25

The EU health commissioner has tweeted that 'in the future' any company that produces vaccines in the EU will have to provide 'early notification' if they want to sell it to a third-party country. In other words, they'll need permission. Totally desperate stuff! They're doing it purely because they screwed up procurement.

Tuesday, January 26

Today we reached a really grim milestone in the pandemic: more than 100,000 deaths in this country. So many people grieving; so much loss.

The Prime Minister gives a virtual press conference on January 26 as official data shows that more than 100,000 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus

The Prime Minister gives a virtual press conference on January 26 as official data shows that more than 100,000 people have died after testing positive for coronavirus

Wednesday, January 27

A humiliating climbdown from the EU, who clearly realised their 'export ban' wouldn't end well. It followed frantic diplomacy on our side, plus our lawyers confirming that they wouldn't be able to block our supply anyway. What a ridiculous waste of time and energy.

Tonight I'm doing a night shift at Basildon Hospital. Front-line staff are still under horrendous pressure, and the best way for me to understand is to see it for myself.

Matt Hancock during his night shift at Basildon Hospital in Essex on January 27
Matt Hancock during his night shift at Basildon Hospital in Essex on January 27

Matt Hancock wears full PPE during his night shift at Basildon Hospital in Essex on January 27

Thursday, January 28

The night shift has left me completely drained. I don't know how they do it day in and day out: heroic. I donned full PPE, and got stuck in, helping to turn patients and fetch and carry. In intensive care, I watched a man consent to being intubated because his blood oxygen levels weren't sustainable.

He spoke to the doctor, who said: 'We want to put a tube in, because we don't think you'll make it unless we do that.'

His chances of waking up were 50:50. He knew that. It was an unbelievably awful moment. He reluctantly agreed, and within a minute he was flat out on the ventilator. The doctor next to me said: 'I don't think we'll see him again.'

When my shift was over, I went down to the rest area. One of the registrars told me he'd just had to phone the wife of the patient to say he'd been intubated.

'We're doing this, we all know it's our duty, we're coping with a second wave — but we can't have a third,' he said. Then he burst into tears.

Thanking NHS staff for their 'resilience' on Twitter on January 28, Matt Hancock shared pictures of him during a shift at Basildon hospital

Thanking NHS staff for their 'resilience' on Twitter on January 28, Matt Hancock shared pictures of him during a shift at Basildon hospital

Monday, February 1

A YouGov poll suggests 70 per cent of Britons think the Government is handling the vaccine rollout well, while 23 per cent think we're doing badly. I forwarded it to [NHS England chief executive] Simon Stevens.

'Who the heck are the 23 per cent, for goodness' sake!!' he replied.

I don't know. Maybe the same 20 per cent of people who believe UFOs have landed on Earth? Or the five million Brits who think the Apollo moon landings were faked?

Thursday, February 4

Tobias Ellwood [Tory MP] thinks GPs are deliberately discouraging patients from using vaccination centres so they get their jabs in GP surgeries instead. I'm sure he's right. That way, the GPs make more money.

Monday, February 8

We've now vaccinated almost a quarter of all adults in the UK!

Wednesday, February 10

Labour MP Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Labour MP Meg Hillier, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee

Meg Hillier [Labour MP], who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, has started an infuriating campaign accusing 'Tory ministers' of running a 'chumocracy' over PPE contracts. How pitifully low. I'm incandescent.

What Meg fails to acknowledge is that when the pandemic kicked off, of course we had to use the emergency procedure for buying, which allows officials to move fast and not tender everything for months.

And when people got in contact [about] PPE, of course we forwarded on the proposals for civil servants to look at.

Even the Labour Party were getting involved — it was a national crisis and these leads have proved invaluable.

[Shadow Chancellor] Rachel Reeves wrote to Michael Gove at the time, complaining that a series of offers weren't being taken up. Officials looked into her proposals, too.

I'm even more offended because I used to respect Meg. It's so offensive for a supposedly grown-up politician to bend the truth in this way.

Thursday, February 11

So here we are, in the depths of the bleakest lockdown, with the virus still picking off hundreds of victims every week, and Test and Trace officials have been having secret talks about scaling back. Unbelievable!

I told them there was no way they should stand down any lab capacity, but I'm told they're getting a very different signal from the Treasury.

Friday, February 12

The Left never ceases to amaze. The bleeding hearts who run North West London CCG (one of many health quangos nobody will miss when they're abolished) have taken it upon themselves to prioritise vaccinating asylum seekers. They have fast-tracked no fewer than 317 such individuals — 'predominantly males in their 20s and 30s'.

So, while older British citizens quietly wait their turn, we are fast-tracking people who aren't in high-risk categories and may not even have any right to be here?

Meanwhile, some of our vaccine supply has met an untimely end. I'd just reached the end of a tricky meeting when a sheepish-looking official knocked on my office door. He'd been dispatched to inform me that half a million doses of the active ingredient that makes up the vaccine have gone down the drain.

Some poor lab technician literally dropped a bag of the vaccine on the floor. Half a million doses in one dropped bag! I decided not to calculate how much Butter Fingers has cost us. Mistakes happen.

Sunday, February 28

A potentially dangerous new variant — which we think originated in Brazil — has been identified in the UK, but we can't find Patient Zero. Whoever it is failed to provide the correct contact details when they took their Covid test, so we don't know who or where they are. Cue a frantic search.

Monday, March 1

When a lab technician first spotted the new variant, we didn't even know which part of the country the positive test had come from. Since then, thanks to some fancy sequencing and a high-quality data system, we've been able to identify the batch of home-test kits involved, and narrowed it down to just 379 possible households. We're now contacting every single one.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks at the press conference on March 1 as the Government appeals for a person infected with a powerful Covid strain from Brazil to come forward

Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England Jonathan Van-Tam speaks at the press conference on March 1 as the Government appeals for a person infected with a powerful Covid strain from Brazil to come forward

Tuesday, March 2

The net's closing. We now know that the PCR test was processed at 00.18hrs on Valentine's Day and went to the lab via a mailing centre in Croydon.

Thursday, March 4

Test and Trace have found Patient Zero! He was on the shortlist of 379 households and eventually returned calls from officials at 4 pm yesterday.

Apparently, he tried to register his test but got the details wrong. We now know his name and age (38) and that he has been very ill. He claims not to have left his house for 18 days.

This is extremely good news: assuming he's telling the truth, he has not been out and about super-spreading. What amazing detective work.

Friday, March 5

Covid deaths have nearly halved within a week. The vaccine is clearly saving lives.

Graph showing the number of Covid deaths per day in the UK up to and including March 5

Graph showing the number of Covid deaths per day in the UK up to and including March 5

Wednesday, March 10

Can you imagine if we hadn't bothered to set up a contact tracing system? And if we'd decided it was all too difficult and expensive to do mass testing? Would we ever have been forgiven if we'd failed to identify clusters of cases or new variants?

No — and rightly so. Yet a cross-party committee of MPs has come to the conclusion that Test and Trace was basically a gigantic waste of time and money. I felt the red mist descend.

Yesterday, we did 1.5 million tests — in a single day! No other European country has built such a capability.

Thursday, March 11

The Test and Trace row is rumbling on, as is a ridiculous story about me supposedly helping a guy who used to be the landlord of my local pub in Suffolk land a multi-million-pound Covid contract. As I've said ad nauseam, I've had nothing to do with awarding Covid contracts. I find these attacks on my integrity incredibly hurtful.

Matt Hancock pictured with the former landlord of his local pub Alex Bourne, whose company won a £30million contract to make Covid test tubes

Matt Hancock pictured with the former landlord of his local pub Alex Bourne, whose company won a £30million contract to make Covid test tubes 

Tuesday, March 16

To my astonishment, hotel quarantine is working. There's a weird new variant from the Philippines, but the two cases we've identified have gone no further than their Heathrow airport hotel rooms.

Wednesday, March 17

Today was my son's birthday. We had breakfast together, but there was no way I could join the birthday tea with family. I hope to make it up to him — to all of them — when all this is over.

Tuesday, March 30

How did Covid start? A year on, we still don't really know, and there's still an awful lot of pussyfooting around not wanting to upset the Chinese.

No surprise to learn that the Foreign Office has 'strong views on diplomacy' — in other words, they won't rock the boat with Beijing and just want it all to go away.

Saturday, April 17

Prince Philip's funeral. The Queen sat alone in a pew, in widow's weeds and a black face mask. Looking at her in her grief, I felt an intense internal conflict, almost an anguish, between the overwhelming sense of duty I have had to save lives on the one hand and the painful consequences of my own decisions on the other. Out of duty, out of an abundance of caution, and to show leadership, the Queen took the most proper approach. It was humbling, and I felt wretched.

The late Queen Elizabeth sits alone during the funeral of Prince Philip at Windsor Castle on April 17

The late Queen Elizabeth sits alone during the funeral of Prince Philip at Windsor Castle on April 17

Monday, April 19

The police rang to warn me that anti-vaxxers are planning a march on my London home. They suggested I liaise with [my wife] Martha so she can tell me if it's happening.

Great that they spotted it, but asking my wife to keep an eye out of the window while a baying horde descends on the family home is not exactly British policing at its finest. I asked for more support. Then I went home to make sure I was there if it kicked off, but there was no sign of anyone.

A policeman explained that the anti-vaxxers had posted the wrong details on social media so were busy protesting a few streets away. What complete idiots.

Thursday, April 22

Boris has completely lost his rag over Scotland.

He's got it into his head that Nicola Sturgeon is going to use vaccine passports to drive a wedge between Scotland and the rest of the UK and is harrumphing around his bunker, firing off WhatsApps like a nervous second lieutenant in a skirmish.

He's completely right: Sturgeon has tried to use the pandemic to further her separatist agenda at every turn.

Now the Scottish government is working on its own system of vaccine certification, which might or might not link up with what's being developed for the rest of the UK.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary election on April 22

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon campaigning for the Scottish Parliamentary election on April 22

Saturday, May 1

Another outright death threat today in my inbox that said simply: 'I am going to kill you.' Lovely. The threats from online anti-vaxxers are getting far more frequent and violent.

As a result, I'm now being assessed for the maximum level of government security.

Tuesday, May 4

Today, I was out campaigning for the local elections in Derbyshire. Gina [Coladangelo, adviser] drove me up. My relationship with Gina is changing.

Having spent so much time talking about how to communicate in an emotionally engaged way, we are getting much closer.

Wednesday, May 26

Dominic Cummings has told a select committee I should have been fired 'for at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions'.

Apparently I lied about PPE, lied about patients getting the treatment they needed, lied about this and lied about that.

Later, the PM called. 'Don't you worry, Matt. No one believes a word he says. I'm sorry I ever hired him. You're doing a great job — and history will prove you right. Bash on!'

I went to bed thinking, 'Thank goodness I kept vaccines out of Dom's destructive hands or that would have been a disaster like everything else he touched.'

Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to the joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on May 26

Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to the joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on May 26

Thursday, May 27

When I got into work, I heard that the Prof had called my private office volunteering to support me in public if need be.

This spectacular vote of confidence meant the most.

Shortly before I headed home, [Defence Secretary] Ben Wallace sent a nice message asking if I was OK. 'The Cummings evidence can be summed up as the 'ramblings of a tw*t',' he said.

Saturday, May 29

Boris and Carrie got married at Westminster Cathedral. I'm not entirely sure how much the PM's mind was on his future with his beloved, though, because this afternoon he was busy texting me about the latest Covid data.

'Lower cases and deaths today. So definitely ne panique pas,' I told him.

Then again, perhaps he's just very good at multi-tasking and can examine infection graphs, pick bits of confetti off his jacket and give his new bride doe-eyed looks all at the same time.

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson pose in the garden of 10 Downing Street following their wedding at Westminster Cathedral on May 29

Boris Johnson and his wife Carrie Johnson pose in the garden of 10 Downing Street following their wedding at Westminster Cathedral on May 29

Sunday, May 30

'Keep going, we have seen off Cummings's bungled assassination,' Boris messaged cheerfully.

It was lunchtime and the PM didn't appear to be having any kind of honeymoon, or even half a day off.

Tuesday, June 1

For the first time since last summer, there were no Covid deaths reported yesterday. We really are coming out of this.

 

Why ex-Speaker Betty was out of order

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Baroness Betty Boothroyd getting her Covid vaccination on December 21

Baroness Betty Boothroyd getting her Covid vaccination on December 21

Betty Boothroyd called the office, asking if there’s any way she can get her jab soon. She’s 91 and very vulnerable. I called her back myself as I was in the car home.

I’d never met her, but she’s something of a hero of mine. As Speaker, she was a real trailblazer for women in politics. I said yes, we can get you your jab — given her age, she’s entitled to it — but the deal is you have to have it on camera.

She readily agreed. I gave her number to Nadhim Zahawi, who is going to fix it.

Monday, January 11, 2021

A message from a friend tipping me off that straight-talking cricket legend Sir Geoffrey Boycott is very unhappy about the delay in the second dose. He’s a childhood hero of mine, so I volunteered to call him personally to explain. I rang him and made the case as well as I could, but it was clear he was far from persuaded.

Tuesday, January 12

Not only is Boycott in the Press having a go at me; now Betty Boothroyd is kicking off as well. Given that I personally ensured she got her first jab fast, it feels a bit rich. It’s particularly miserable being criticised by people I’ve grown up admiring and went out of my way to help, but welcome to the life of a politician.

Friday, March 12

Oh well, at least Geoffrey Boycott is happy. He texted me to say he’d got his second dose. He seems genuinely grateful. I resisted the temptation to tell him that good things come to those who wait.

Extracted from Pandemic Diaries: The Inside Story Of Britain's Battle Against Covid by Matt Hancock & Isabel Oakeshott, to be published by Biteback on December 6 at £25. © Matt Hancock & Isabel Oakeshott 2022. To order a copy for £22.50 (offer valid until December 17, 2022; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit mailshop.co.uk/books or call 020 3176 2937.

Matt Hancock reveals Boris Johnson's rage at Pfizer trying to divert vaccine supply to the EU

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