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U.K. health minister resigns after breaking Covid rules by kissing aide

Matt Hancock resigned Saturday, a day after he apologized for breaching social distancing rules with the aide.
Britain's Health Secretary Matt Hancock giving the latest Covid-19 update in the House of Commons in London on Feb. 9, 2021.Jessica Taylor / AFP - Getty Images file
/ Source: Reuters

LONDON — Britain's health minister Matt Hancock quit on Saturday after he was caught breaking Covid-19 rules by kissing and embracing an aide in his office, enraging colleagues and the public who have been living under lockdown.

Hancock, 42, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign after The Sun newspaper published photos on Friday of the married minister embracing senior aide Gina Coladangelo, who he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role to scrutinize the performance of his department.

The tabloid said the closed circuit television images were taken May 6 — 11 days before lockdown rules were eased to allow hugs and other physical contact with people outside one’s own household.

Image: FILE PHOTO: UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street with aide Gina Coladangelo
UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street with aide Gina Coladangelo in London on May 1, 2020.Dan Kitwood / Getty Images file

Hancock has been at the center of the government's fight against the pandemic, routinely appearing on the television and radio to tell people to follow the strict rules to contain the virus.

His departure means Johnson will have to appoint a new minister to take on the huge department that is responsible for overseeing the health service and tackling the virus, at a time when cases have started to rise again.

Johnson had said on Friday he had accepted an apology from the minister and considered the matter to be closed, but Hancock had faced rising pressure to quit.

"We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance," Hancock said in his letter.

Johnson said in reply that he was sorry to receive it.

"You should be immensely proud of your service," he wrote. "I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over."

The Sun showed Hancock kissing the aide in his office last month, at a time when it was against the rules for people to have intimate contact with a person outside their household.

The opposition Labour Party also questioned whether he had broken the ministerial code: the woman, a long-time friend of Hancock's, was appointed as a non-executive director, on a taxpayer-funded salary, to oversee the running of his department.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said on Twitter that Hancock was right to resign. "But Boris Johnson should have sacked him."

With 128,000 deaths, Britain has one of the highest official death tolls from Covid-19 in the world and Hancock, in the post for almost three years, had been heavily criticised for his initial handling of the pandemic.

However Johnson's Conservative government has been boosted by a rapid rollout of the vaccine programme, with 84 percent of adults having one dose and 61 percent having both, well ahead of most other countries.