Isabel Oakeshott clashes with Nick Robinson over Matt Hancock texts
Of all the things we learned from the leaking of Matt Hancock’s pandemic WhatsApps, the former Prime Minister’s terrible grasp of basic maths might be the most unexpected.
More than 100,000 messages were leaked by journalist Isabel Oakeshott after she collaborated with Mr Hancock on his controversial Pandemic Diaries memoir.
A report in The Telegraph based on the messages alleges that Hancock rejected advice to give Covid tests to all care home residents – fiercely denied as a “distorted account” by his spokesman.
Hancock has since disputed claims that he rejected expert advice on Covid tests for people going into England’s care homes at the start of the pandemic and claims his text messages have been ‘doctored’.
One other thing people have noticed after reading all the messages is Boris Johnson’s inability to understand basic maths at the time.
The former PM is being mocked after misinterpreting basic stats during the height of the pandemic – failing to understand the difference between a percentage and a probability figure.
Johnson struggled over basic stats in the new messagesJack Hill - WPA Pool/Getty Images
The Telegraph reported that Johnson posted in a group chat with key officials saying he “just read somewhere” that fewer people who contracted Covid-19 were dying as a result of the virus.
He then asked how the government could “justify the continuing paralysis” of the economy. However, it turned out that he had misread an article in the Financial Times, and the people in the group – including Sir Patrick Vallance and Dominic Cummings – had to explain Johnson’s mistake.
The former PM didn’t understand that the figure of 0.04 mentioned in the article was a percentage and not a probability figure.
Vallance wrote in the leaked messages: “It seems that the FT figure is 0.04 (ie 4 per cent not 0.04 per cent) and is the case fatality rate and not the infection fatality rate (which would be 0.4-1per cent overall).”
Johnson then wrote: “Eh? So what is 0.04 if it is not a percentage? (Five marks; show working)”
Cummings added: “0.04 as a probability means 4 per cent. 0 = 0 per cent. 1 = 100 per cent. 0.04 = 4 per cent.”
\u201cIf this wasn\u2019t a real conversation between a PM and his scientific and political advisers about a lethal pandemic, it would be funny. Sadly it is real and thoroughly depressing. Is the teaching of maths at Eton so poor? Johnson: \u201cWhat is the mortality rate of Covid?\u201d @Telegraph\u201d
The oversight from Johnson was covered by Robert Peston in a tweet, with the ITV’s political editor writing: “If this wasn’t a real conversation between a PM and his scientific and political advisers about a lethal pandemic, it would be funny. Sadly it is real and thoroughly depressing. Is the teaching of maths at Eton so poor?”
\u201cThis from @telegraph WhatsApp leak might be why Rishi Sunak thinks everyone should study maths until 18. Maybe it suggests politicians should be sent to maths lessons before being allowed to make decisions.\u201d
Johnson’s mistake was criticised on social media, with the likes of Channel 4 News presenter Krishnan Guru-Murthy hitting out at the former PM, suggesting that it might be 'why Rishi Sunak thinks everyone should study maths until 18.'
Have your say in our news democracy. Click the upvote icon at the top of the page to help raise this article through the indy100 rankings.