United Kingdom

SIR ROCCO FORTE: Matt Hancock's ineptitude is bankrupting my industry - it's time he was sacked 

We are gradually becoming a totalitarian state. Ministers are encouraging people to spy on their neighbours, the police are urged to abandon their normal duties to disturb us in the privacy of our homes, and pub and restaurant owners are required to use Gestapo-like tactics with their customers.

Millions are again prevented from meeting friends and family, banned from leading normal lives. Swathes of jobs are also being destroyed and Government debt is piling up to dizzying levels.

Yet it seems there is no logic behind any of this.

A handout photograph released by the UK Parliament shows Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock attending a debate on the novel coronavirus COVID-19, in the House of Commons in London on October 22, 2020

We have reached a farcical situation where it appears to be perfectly acceptable to die of anything so long as it is not Covid.

About 1,500 people are dying every day, but all we hear about are the 100 or so who die after testing positive for Covid-19 in the previous 28 days.

Official figures show that last month coronavirus was only the 19th-biggest cause of death in England.

Deaths from cancer, heart attacks, strokes, pneumonia and influenza are all at high levels because people have been discouraged from seeking NHS treatment, or it has not been available.

This is a hidden scandal, involving thousands of deaths that could have been prevented. But the Government pays scant heed to any of this because its focus is purely on Covid.

I believe the reality is this: the virus is not the devastating killer it was thought to be at the outset. According to some of the latest research, the likelihood of dying if you catch Covid is as low as 0.25 per cent, while the deaths that sadly do occur are concentrated among over-75s and those with underlying health problems.

In the 2017-18 flu epidemic period there were 50,000 excess deaths – a similar number to Covid deaths since March – yet we did not shut Britain down. The current panic, therefore, is hugely misplaced.

In the 36 days from April 1, there were 175,951 new Covid cases and 27,443 deaths, a rate of 15 per cent. Yet in the 36 days since the start of September, 196,240 new cases have been reported and 944 deaths, a rate of 0.5 per cent.

In April, only those ill enough to have been hospitalised were being tested. Now a much wider spectrum is being screened, many of whom are asymptomatic or have very mild forms of the disease, meaning many more cases are being picked up.

Sir Rocco Forte (pictured) says Health Secretary Matt Hancock has presided over the deeply dysfunctional Public Health England

The latest evidence is that current infections are mainly in care homes (45 per cent of the total) than in the education sector (21 per cent). Food outlets and restaurants account for just five per cent of infections. So why is this industry being driven on to the rocks of bankruptcy again?

Business for restaurants and bars has been reduced to a trickle since the imposition of Tier 3 restrictions across the North and Tier 2 regulations in London, although it must be said that Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s announcement last week of further support is welcome.

It is quite clear from all of the evidence around the world that lockdowns do not stop the disease and only prolong its duration.

The World Health Organisation no longer recommends them as a way of dealing with the disease. Why, then, do Ministers persist with this flawed and divisive approach? 

The duty of government should be to protect the old and the vulnerable – those most at risk of dying of Covid-19 – with a particular focus on care and health settings.

Lockdowns will succeed only in wrecking the economy and blighting the lives of many, and the young in particular.

Little or no thought has been given to the devastation all around us: the businesses that are failing, the jobs being destroyed and the suffering this will cause.

Opinion polls show that the public largely supports Government policy, an echo of Ministers’ own doom-laden propaganda. If current policies do not change, they will find the mood changing very rapidly. But by then it will be too late.

My industry is suffering with 25,000 restaurant pub and hotel premises forced to close. Half a million seasonal workers were unable to take up their jobs this summer and 162,000 people have already been made redundant.

Now we approach the end of the Government’s furlough scheme to support wages, after which the real bulk of redundancies will occur. A recent poll indicated that 37 per cent of UK hospitality business owners are considering closure.

My own business will be forced to make 80 people redundant out of a total staff in the UK of 450 when furlough ends.

My own business will be forced to make 80 people redundant out of a total staff in the UK of 450 when furlough ends. Pictured: Browns Hotel, one of Rocco Forte's city centre hotels

My two city-centre hotels in this country are languishing on occupancy rates of 20 per cent and this is unlikely to change until international travel returns to something approaching normal.

This is a disastrous and unnecessary state of affairs.

The fact is that I believe it’s time to remove the figurehead for the current shambolic handling of the crisis, with policies marked by indecision, U-turns and blindness to the devastating impact of its actions.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has presided over the deeply dysfunctional Public Health England.

I exclude from any blame NHS frontline staff, who have been heroes – but heroes, unfortunately, led by donkeys.

Incidentally, Mr Hancock has repeatedly refused to answer questions from this newspaper over whether he returned to a Commons bar where MPs were drinking beyond the 10pm curfew.

The story has reinforced the infuriating impression that it is one rule for them and one rule for the rest of us.

It is time for Mr Hancock to go and for the Government to change tack and move to an approach that allows the economy to return to normal.

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