British health minister Matt Hancock quit on Saturday after he was caught breaking COVID-19 rules by kissing and embracing an aide in his office, enraging colleagues and the public who have been living under lockdown.
In the latest scandal to rock a government that has overseen one of the highest death tolls from the coronavirus pandemic, Hancock, 42, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign, saying he had let people down.
Since the Sun newspaper published photos on Friday of the married minister embracing a woman whom he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role to scrutinise the performance of his department, an increasing number of his fellow Conservative lawmakers had privately called for him to go.
Hancock has been at the centre of the government’s fight against the pandemic, routinely appearing on television to tell people to follow strict rules and to defend his department against criticism of its response to the crisis.
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His departure means Johnson will need to appoint a new minister to take on a huge department that is responsible for overseeing the health service and tackling the virus, at a time when cases have started to rise again.
Johnson had said on Friday he had accepted Hancock’s apology and considered the matter closed.
“We owe it to people who have sacrificed so much in this pandemic to be honest when we have let them down as I have done by breaching the guidance,” Hancock said in his letter.
Johnson said in reply that he was sorry to receive it.
“You should be immensely proud of your service,” he wrote. “I am grateful for your support and believe that your contribution to public service is far from over.”
The Sun had shown Hancock kissing the aide in his office last month, at a time when it was against the rules for people to have intimate contact with a person outside their household.