Jonathan Van-Tam leaves post as England’s deputy chief medical officer – watch his best moments

 Jonathan Van-Tam leaves post as England’s deputy chief medical officer – watch his best moments

Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam will leave his role as England’s deputy chief medical officer at the end of March. 

Prof Van-Tam became one of the nation’s most familiar faces during the Covid-19 pandemic after he regularly took the podium at Downing Street press conferences next to Boris Johnson and Prof Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for England.

He will take up a new role as the Pro-Vice Chancellor for the faculty of medicine and health sciences at the University of Nottingham.

He said: “My time as DCMO has been the most challenging of my professional career, especially the Covid response.

“We all wish Covid had never happened. Notwithstanding, it has been the greatest privilege of my professional career to have served the people of the UK during this time.”

It comes after he was knighted in the New Year Honours list for his services to public health.

Boris Johnson thanked the outgoing deputy chief medical officer “for his extraordinary contribution to our country and his invaluable advice throughout the pandemic”.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said it had been an “honour” to work with Sir Jonathan, while Sir Chris said he had been “an outstanding Deputy Chief Medical Officer and public servant”.

Speaking in the Commons as he confirmed changes to self-isolation rules, Mr Javid said: “There aren’t many clinical advisers who can be recognised solely by three letters.

“But JVT’s unique and straightforward approach to communication has seen him rapidly become a national hero.

“To use words that I think he might particularly like, we’re grateful that we’ve had him on loan for so many years. He’s been a top signing and he’s blown the whistle on time.

“So I’m sure the whole House will want to join me in wishing Jonathan Van-Tam – Professor Sir Jonathan Van-Tam – all the very best.”

‘The rules have always been clear’

Sir Jonathan first stood out thanks to a punchy response to a press conference question about Dominic Cummings’ drive to Durham.

“In my opinion, the rules are clear and they have always been clear. In my opinion they are for the benefit of all, and in my opinion they apply to all,” he said.

Boris Johnson said at the time that while he understood that it looked bad that Mr Cummings had appeared to have broken the rules, he was satisfied his ex-adviser acted “responsibly, legally and with integrity”.

An analogy for every occasion

Covid-19 has proven to be the worst pandemic for a century, and confusion reigned at the start of the first lockdown at a time when so little was known about the disease.

Fortunately, Mr Van-Tam – or ‘Mr Metaphor’, as he was affectionately nicknamed – was on hand with a comparison for every occasion.

The authorisation of a vaccine by the MHRA became “the train [stopping] at the station, and the doors have opened”. Urging Britons to get their jabs as soon as they were calleed up, he said: What we need now is people to get on that train and travel safely to their destinations. Those destinations are all over the UK.

“This train is going to stop several times along the way, it’s going to have to reach all parts of the UK, there will be trains that come behind it and that is all going to take time. So everyone needs to be delighted with the news today but equally patient and realistic about how this rolls out over the next few months.”

By February 2021, when the rollout was in full swing, Sir Jonathan seemed to invoke the spirit of the 2005 Champions League final as he warned the UK against losing a “three-nil” lead over the virus.

“My kind of key message tonight is, look, this is all going very well but there are some worry signs that people are relaxing, taking their foot off the brake at exactly the wrong time,” he cautioned.

“It’s a bit like being 3-0 up in a game and thinking well we can’t possibly lose this now. But how many times have you seen the other side take it 4-3? Do not wreck this now. It is too early to relax. Just continue to maintain discipline and hang on… Do not wreck this now, we are so close.”

And while the omicron variant briefly seemed to stop everything in its tracks, the football analogies were unscathed. Prof Van-Tam told a technical briefing: “We started with 11 players in the team with the Wuhan virus and you can say that we’ve picked up a couple of injuries when alpha came along and delta came along.

“Now, omicron is like now picking up a couple of yellow cards to key players on top. We may be okay, but we’re kind of starting to feel at risk that we might go down to 10 players and if that happens, or it’s a risk that’s going to happen, then we need everyone on the pitch to up their game in the meantime. We’re not going to wait for the red card to happen, we are going to act decisively now and we’re asking everyone to up their game.”

‘We’re going viral’

Sir Jonathan disappeared in a puff of smoke at the start of the first of his three Royal Institution Christmas lectures last month.

It was up there with the best 36 seconds ever committed to film, as he ripped off one shirt to reveal a slightly less formal one – topped off by a slightly bewildered audience and a straight-to-camera “tonight, we’re going viral” at the end.

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