Ministers fear Chris Whitty could resign over Boris Johnson’s plans to get workers back in office

England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty is on resignation watch after disagreeing with the government over its drive to send workers back to the office.

Jonathon Read 

The Telegraph reports that ministers are worried that if they push too hard the message for workers to return to towns and city centres it will result in Whitty resigning because of safety fears.

The government fears further damage to trust in their coronavirus response if Whitty was to resign, having previously said he believes social distancing will be needed for a considerable period of time.

He explained in July: “There are some things which we started right at the beginning, which absolutely have to continue for a prolonged period of time, washing hands, isolation, household isolation.

“And then we’ve added to that things like contact tracing, most recently face coverings.

“And these are issues of, and issues around distancing, which have been varied but the reality is distancing remains an important part of this mix and how it’s interpreted in different governments has evolved.

Chris Whitty says ‘under-investment’ in public health hampered coronavirus response

England’s chief medical officer has defended the actions taken over the coronavirus pandemic, blaming under-investment in public health for issues with the government response.

“But it has not gone away. So, all of those need to continue for a long period of time.”

A top health and safety expert earlier accused Johnson’s government of ‘bullying’ workers back into the office, pointing out there is no evidence it is safe to do so.

It comes as the prime minister headed up the first cabinet meeting since the summer recess, with the environment secretary revealing yesterday he has no idea when civil servants will return to departments, including his own.

“We don’t have a target other than to make sure that it is safe for people to return to work, and that does require, for instance, fewer work stations.”

A Department of Health source denied that Whitty could resign, calling the reports a “complete invention”.

“Chris is not threatening to resign, and hasn’t threatened to resign,” they added.

In June it was reported that Whitty and the chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance refused to do a press conference with the prime minister after Dominic Cummings tried to explain his reasons for travelling to Durham during lockdown.