LONDON – UK Health Minister Matt Hancock apologized on Friday for breaking Covid guidelines on social distancing after a tabloid newspaper published a photo of him hugging and kissing his main collaborator in his office.
“I let people down and I’m so sorry,” Hancock, who is married, said in a statement.
“I remain focused on working to get the country out of this pandemic and I would be grateful for my family’s confidentiality on this personal matter,” he said.
The Sun newspaper said the photos of Hancock and his assistant were taken last month, although it did not say how he obtained the photos recorded by a security camera. NBC News was unable to independently verify the footage.
The Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid said the footage was taken between May 6 and May 11, days before lockdown rules were relaxed to allow hugs and other physical contact with people outside his own home.
Hancock met the assistant at Oxford University in the early 2000s, the newspaper reported. She is listed on the Department of Health website as a non-executive director.
Download the NBC News app for the latest news and politics
The UK Department of Health told NBC News it was not commenting on the case, but a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he had “accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considered the case closed “.
When asked if Johnson had full confidence in Hancock, the spokesperson replied: “Yes”.
Hancock, who has led the country’s response to the pandemic, is the latest in a series of officials accused of breaking restrictions on the rest of the population to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
He has been criticized for his handling of the first months of the Covid-19 pandemic, when his health department struggled to provide tests and protective equipment to hospital staff treating patients.
He was admitted in February that he acted illegally by not revealing details of contracts signed during the health crisis.
The opposition Labor Party said his position had become “hopelessly untenable” and demanded that he be sacked if he was not ready to resign voluntarily. He also accused the government of “cronyism” by awarding millions of pounds of contracts related to the pandemic.
“Ministers, like everyone else, have a right to privacy,” a Labor spokesperson said. “However, when taxpayer dollars are at stake or jobs are offered to close friends who have a personal relationship with a minister, this needs to be considered.”