It is “disappointing” that civil servants and ministers broke Covid rules at No.10 during the pandemic, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, has said.
Asked about the Partygate scandal after collecting an honour for his work during the Covid-19 crisis, Vallance said: "It was really important at all stages that everyone stuck to the rules. It worked when people stuck to them. It is disappointing that that wasn't the case."
His comments came a day after Boris Johnson survived a confidence vote partly triggered by Tory MPs’ anger over the prime minister's conduct as the scandal has unfolded. The PM is among 83 people who have been fined by the Metropolitan Police for breaching Covid regulations at Downing Street and in Whitehall in 2020 and 2021.
Vallance, who became a household name through his regular appearances at televised briefings from Downing Street during the pandemic, received his Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath award at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.
The honour, which was announced in the government’s New Years Honours List in January, recognises the work of senior military officials and civil servants.
The chief scientific adviser also spoke about his experience contributing to the government's Covid response.
"Obviously people in the government fell ill and the prime minister was very ill and those were very difficult days,” he said.
"It was mostly about the uncertainty. We did not know much about the virus. We did not know much about exactly how it spread. We did not know there were going to be vaccines and treatments."
Vallance said the most positive time during the pandemic was when the UK became the first country in the world to approve a Covid-19 vaccine.
"We thought 'this is going to be a way out of this', even though it was over a year before it was finally a way to getting out of it," he said. "It was the thing that changed the course of the pandemic."
The vaccine rollout began 18 months ago, with a UK woman the first person in the world to receive a Covid vaccine. Around 87% of over-12s have now had two doses.
The adviser warned that next winter could be another difficult period, but said high vaccination and immunity levels mean the NHS is well prepared. There is likely to be an annual vaccine for people over a certain age and eventually Covid will become like the regular wave of winter flu, Vallance said.
"It will be difficult because there will be some people who are really affected by it but the key to this is proper vaccination and proper management in the health service,” he added.
"Then gradually over the next two or three years, I think this could settle into a background infection, but we are not quite there yet."
Vallance also praised the "most amazing scientists and experts" who kept the public up to date with factual information during the pandemic.
"It has been one of those experiences where you realise the importance of other people, humanity and the goodwill, hard work, passion and expertise," he said.
"It is nice to feel trusted and I am grateful for that.”
Vallance said that throughout the pandemic, he and others had tried to be as honest, straightforward and realistic as possible about how circumstances were unfolding.