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Matt Hancock leaks lead to cover-up fears over ‘eat out to help out’ scheme

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Rishi Sunak faces calls for an inquiry into whether Treasury officials buried or ignored evidence that his £849m “eat out to help out” scheme fuelled the spread of the pandemic.Officials dismissed a Warwick University study in October 2020 that said Sunak’s initiative may have caused a significant rise in Covid-19 infections.

The report estimated 8%-17% of detected new clusters could be linked to the scheme.Despite the government categorically rejecting the findings, the publication of former health secretary Matt Hancock’s WhatsApp messages appears to confirm that there were concerns about the then chancellor’s scheme in summer 2020 driving an increase in infections.In the leaked messages obtained by the Daily Telegraph, Hancock told the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, that he had “kept it out of news” that the initiative was spreading the virus.

He said his department had informed the Treasury and was “protecting” officials.Jonathan Portes, a professor in economics and public policy at King’s College London and a former senior civil servant at the Treasury, said: “It looks on the face of it that [the Treasury] was deliberately trying to conceal what the evidence was about eat out to help out.“We need to know what exactly the Department of Health told the Treasury, what was said internally about the data and what the advice was to ministers.”He said the evidence to date suggested there may have been a “cover-up” and the Treasury needed to publish all the relevant documents.

He said it was “disgraceful” and “unprofessional” to dismiss the Warwick University paper, which was on a matter of significant public interest, and there should now be an inquiry.The scheme, which was launched in August 2020, was one of Sunak’s

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