Professor Chris Whitty has said he’s sure the young man who verbally abused him in the street will “become a model citizen in due course and hopefully more like Captain Tom”.
England’s chief medical officer was answering a question about the incident, which was caught on video, when he said he “didn’t think anything” of it.
The shocking footage shared on TikTok shows a youth repeatedly accusing England’s chief medical officer of “lying” about COVID-19 while the scientist was out getting lunch in central London.
It shows Prof Whitty greeting passers-by in Strutton Ground Market, near Victoria station, and putting a face mask on to stand in a queue for food before being harassed.
The unnamed individual holds the camera as he walks around Prof Whitty, telling him: “Liar. You’re a liar. Mandem, he’s a liar… You’re a liar. You lie about the COVID-19 cases. Stop lying to the TV, man.”
The scientist refused to react to the taunts, and continues to wait for his lunch in silence from a nearby market stall.
“The odd young lad, showing off, occasionally happens,” Prof Whitty told a Downing Street briefing on Wednesday evening.
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“I didn’t think anything of it frankly. I was very surprised it was picked up by the media at all as anything of any importance.
“I’m sure he’ll become a model citizen in due course and hopefully more like Captain Tom, who is the kind of person who I think much more exemplifies the spirit of the UK.”
The young man was branded “pathetic” by Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
“I think the individual concerned is pathetic, I think it is ridiculous what he is doing,” Matt Hancock told BBC Breakfast on Wednesday.
“Chris Whitty is one of our greatest living scientists and his advice to the government all the way through this, and his advice to all of us in the population, has been incredibly smart and thoughtful, and he is a great asset to this nation.
“The idea that someone would do something as silly as that is ridiculous.”
He added: “Chris Whitty is a scientist of great repute and, frankly, he should be respected by everybody.”
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The video was posted on social media platform TikTok on Tuesday but it is unclear when it was filmed.
Conservative MP Matt Vickers shared the clip on Twitter and said it was “appalling”.
He added: “I really can’t believe this footage. Chris Whitty is doing all he can to help guide us through this crisis and should never be subjected to this abuse.”
Prof Whitty, a physician and epidemiologist, has played a key role in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK, often briefing the nation on the latest updates alongside government ministers and government chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.
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