The potential damage cannot be overstated. Initial reports suggest that the virus could spread to up to 70 per cent of the population, leading to more than half a million deaths, at which point the country would have to face up the very real possibility that Hancock’s position at the health department could become untenable.
Details have been leaked to this newspaper of a week-long training exercise carried out last year throughout the department, in an attempt to ascertain whether, in the event of a pandemic, the correct systems are in place to make sure that Hancock’s career progression will remain on track.
That exercise is understood to have ended with Hancock temporarily being demoted to the role of leader of the House of Commons.
Since then, systems have been radically overhauled, for obvious reasons. I mean, come on. That’s the sort of job you give Chris Grayling
The health secretary has been advised that his response in these early stages will be critical to his career’s survival.
Hancock has so far been hesitant to criticise the virus, declining opportunities to appear on Radio 4’s Today programme, which government ministers not brave enough to stand up to Dominic Cummings are currently boycotting. Today is especially popular with elderly listeners, who are most at threat from the virus and least able to access the information they need over the internet, but it is also very important not to upset Cummings, who owns many hardback books.
According to internal government documents, the “reasonable worst-case scenario” could lead to the virus actively taking over the country, at which point Hancock knows he will be seeking a high-ranking cabinet position at the earliest possible opportunity, so it is very important not to say anything now that he might regret later.
In fact, sources close to Hancock say that he now sees coronavirus as a “golden opportunity” for the country. No one is saying there won’t be a few “bumps in the road”; Hancock isn’t saying that either. But once the virus has reaped its deadly harvest, it will free up urgently needed hospital beds and dramatically cut waiting times.
Hancock sees the coronavirus as a once-in-a-generation chance to “level up” this country. He is expected to commit the government to building thousands of new schools and thousands of new hospitals by as early as mid-March, in the sense that no one by then will be able to tell the difference between a school and a hospital anyway.
It is, after all, not yet a year since Hancock ran for Tory leader, and claimed that proroguing parliament would be “an insult to everything the D-Day veterans fought for”, before gladly joining Boris Johnson’s government and doing exactly that.
Chinese authorities believe the virus was first transmitted to humans from reptiles, prompting concerns that the current Conservative government is at very high risk of infection.
Hancock is understood to have told friends “not to worry” and that “he’ll be fine”. He likes to point out that he is surprisingly resilient, and that there is almost no public indignity he cannot survive.
One NHS research group is even rumoured to have concluded that Hancock is himself an advanced mutating superbug, capable of changing every single one of his publicly stated positions on every single issue to avoid detection by any host organism.
“You know MRSA?” said one of its researchers. “Matt Hancock is basically that, but in a Marks & Spencer Autograph suit.”
The prime minister is understood to have already quarantined himself in a private Caribbean island somewhere, possibly paid for by someone or other.
Residents on the neighbouring island 500 miles away are already fearing the worst, after Johnson was heard shouting “Get off my f****** laptop!”
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