Newly surfaced video leads Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt to face fresh claims he is a ‘lockdown fanatic’ who would have shutdown UK economy in a bid to emulate China’s zero Covid policy
- Former Health Secretary pushed for ‘zero infection and elimination of disease’
- He spoke positively of China’s brutal zero-tolerance approach to Covid
- But did caveat his statements by saying ‘we shouldn’t go that far in this country’
Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt last night faced fresh claims that he is a ‘lockdown fanatic’ who would have shut down the British economy in an attempt to emulate the draconian Chinese policy of zero Covid – trying to stop the virus spreading by taking the most extreme measures.
Mr Hunt – who mounted a botched bid to become Prime Minister ahead of last week’s failed vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson – angrily denied supporting the Chinese approach when he was asked about it last month, with a source close to the former Health Secretary describing it as ‘totally wrong, disproportionate and inhumane’.
However, The Mail on Sunday has obtained video footage of Mr Hunt arguing in July 2020 – six months after the pandemic reached the UK – in which he says that he ‘very much’ agrees ‘that we should be aiming for zero infection and elimination of the disease’ because the countries which adopted that approach ‘have overwhelmingly been the most successful in tackling coronavirus‘.
Mr Hunt cites the example of his sister, who lives in Beijing and flew back to the Chinese capital in the middle of lockdown: ‘Just to give you an idea of the contrast, she was escorted from the airport to her home by ministry of health officials and then put into her home for two weeks’ quarantine. The door was sealed and she had a police car sitting outside her house periodically.
‘Now I’m not saying go that far in this country, but I just think it’s an indication of how serious they are about stopping at the root every possible source of infection.’
Mr Hunt adds: ‘I think the central problem we’ve got is that we adopted global best practice in test and trace, but at a point where we were getting about three-and-a-half thousand to 5,000 daily infections, whereas Korea, Taiwan, Singapore were getting between ten and 100 daily infections.’
Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt last night faced fresh claims that he is a ‘lockdown fanatic’ who would have shut down the British economy in an attempt to eliminate Covid
Critics say the former Health Secretary’s pronouncements have been made to look short-sighted by the growing human and economic costs of China’s zero Covid policy.
On Friday half of Shanghai was locked down – again – after just 11 new infections were detected. The megacity of 28 million people only recently emerged from an arduous 60-day lockdown in which many inhabitants were forcibly confined to their housing compounds.
Ten days ago the People’s Daily, a government mouthpiece, hailed ‘the great achievements… in the defence of Shanghai’ as cases plummeted from 30,000 a day in April to almost zero.
However, the celebrations were premature: last Thursday the two million residents of the Minhang suburb were told lockdowns and mass testing would resume for at least two days – only for the measures to be widened to half the city’s 16 districts the following day.
Experts say that if the UK had adopted the same draconian approach it would have turned us into a ‘hermit kingdom’.
A Cabinet critic of Mr Hunt said: ‘He is a lockdown fanatic who would have wrecked the economy if he had been in charge.’
China is now doubling down on zero Covid, building huge numbers of permanent testing stations in cities across the country and expanding quarantine facilities.
Jeremy Hunt is seen leaving his London home riding his bike, the morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson survived a confidence vote
According to Nomura, a Japanese investment bank, if all Chinese cities were to instigate mandatory testing every three days – as is currently required in Beijing – it would knock 1.7 per cent off the gross domestic product of the world’s second largest economy. Most epidemiologists believe that by refusing to open up, China is painting itself into a corner.
To prevent horrendous numbers of Covid deaths, the country desperately needs to raise the number of triple-jabbed elderly people.
But the number of booster shots given to over-60s nationwide has dropped from nearly 800,000 a day at the start of the Shanghai lockdown, to around 100,000 a day now.
As concerns about the Omicron variant gaining hold nationwide have faded, so too has any urgency about the need to get vaccinated. A spokeswoman for Mr Hunt said: ‘Jeremy believed we should have been more robust in containing the virus in the early stages pre-vaccine.
‘But it is a mischaracterisation to say he supported a zero Covid approach – which was rejected by the Select Committee report he co-authored and he believes is a fatally flawed approach as demonstrated by what is happening in China today.
‘As soon as vaccines became widely available he advocated learning to live with the virus.’