UK health secretary apologises for breaching COVID-19 rules in affair with aide

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Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock, looks at the phone of his aide Gina Coladangelo as they leave the BBC in central London on June 6, 2021, after appearing on the BBC political programme The Andrew Marr Show. A British newspaper reported on June 25, 2021, that Britain’s Health Secretary Matt Hancock has been having an affair with a close aide Gina Coladangelo, whom he appointed to his team in secret last year. Image Credit: AFP

London: Health Secretary Matt Hancock apologisd for breaching pandemic rules after being pictured embracing a senior aide, but said he is not resigning from the UK government.

His apology came after The Sun newspaper published two photos of Hancock embracing Gina Coladangelo, apparently in his Whitehall offices last month.

The opposition Labour Party called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to fire his top health official for breaking the government’s own coronavirus restrictions. Hancock said he will keep working to help the country recover from the pandemic.

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Gina Coladangelo leaves the BBC in central London on June 6, 2021, after Hancock appeared on the BBC political programme.

Scandal another stumbling block to the government

* “Hancock’s affair with aide,” the headline in The Sun newspaper read.

* Coladangelo, a former lobbyist, became a nonexecutive director on the department’s board late last year. The role pays roughly $21,000 and requires about three weeks of work annually, the BBC reported.

* Her hiring prompted accusations that Hancock acted unethically by hiring his close friend.

* Speaking to Sky News on Friday, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that Coladangelo – who studied at Oxford University with Hancock – would have gone through an “incredibly rigorous process” to be appointed to her position. “Ministers, like everyone, are entitled to a private life,” said a spokesperson for Britain’s opposition Labour Party. “However, when taxpayers’ money is involved or jobs are being offered to close friends who are in a personal relationship with a minister, then that needs to be looked into.”

* The scandal is the latest stumbling block for the British government which has long faced criticism for its handling of the health crisis, with many accusing officials for failing nursing home residents through poor testing infrastructure, locking down the country too late and failing to provide front line staff with adequate personal protective wear.

* It also comes less than half a year after a British judge ruled that Hancock acted illegally by not being transparent over government contracts that were signed during the pandemic.

“I accept that I breached the social-distancing guidance in these circumstances,” Hancock said in a statement released by his office. “I have let people down and am very sorry. I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic, and would be grateful for privacy for my family on this personal matter.”

Hancock and Coladangelo have been friends since their time together as students at Oxford University and are both married with children.

Coladangelo, a former director at lobbying firm Luther Pendragon and current shareholder, was appointed by Hancock as an unpaid adviser to the Department of Health last year. She was later made a non-executive director at the department, a role that pays 15,000 pounds ($21,000) a year, according to the Sun. Hancock chairs the departmental board.

At the time the photos of the couple were taken, pandemic rules were advising against meeting people from different households indoors. Labour accused Hancock of “breaking his own Covid rules” in the clinch with Coladangelo.

“If Matt Hancock has been secretly having a relationship with an adviser in his office – who he personally appointed to a taxpayer-funded role – it is a blatant abuse of power and a clear conflict of interest,” Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds said. “His position is hopelessly untenable. Boris Johnson should sack him.”