England’s chief medical officer may be given police protection after a video emerged appearing to show him being subjected to harassment.
The footage appears to show two men grabbing Chris Whitty who tries to duck and walk away at St Jame’s Park in central London.
Senior politicians have condemned the incident with Prime Minister Boris Johnson saying he was “shocked at seeing the despicable harassment.”
His words joined a chorus of condemnation from those including Health Secretary Sajid Javid and Home Secretary Priti Patel who suggested the professor may be offered police protection.
“The police are involved as well and we’re speaking to Chris to look at what we can do to support him,” she told Times Radio.
“It’s important we make sure that Chris is given the right kind of support. It is terrible to see such an important public figure, someone that day in day out has been serving our country in the way in which he has to keep us safe, being subject to such appalling abuse.”
In the video, Prof Whitty manages to duck his head under one man’s arm but the duo seem to grab him again as he tries to walk away.
Mr Johnson said: "I'm shocked at seeing the despicable harassment of chief medical officer Chris Whitty.
"I condemn the behaviour of these thugs. Our hard-working public servants should not have to face this kind of intimidation on our streets and we will not tolerate it."
With a line of police vans visible in the background, a voice could be heard saying “leave the gentleman alone” before the video ends.
Health secretary Sajid Javid also confirmed he had seen the video which he called “appalling and totally unacceptable.”
“The CMO works tirelessly on behalf of the country. We will not tolerate this sort of behaviour towards our public servants. The men behaving in this disgraceful way should be ashamed,” he said.
Mayor Sadiq Khan, who is also London’s police and crime commissioner, said had been in touch with Met commissioner Dame Cressida Dick about the incident.
He told the London health board on Tuesday: “I have been in touch with the Commissioner and the police are joining the dots up… the incident is being actioned as well as the CMO (Chief Medical Officer) being properly looked after as well.”
Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi also condemned the video.
“This is disgusting and these thugs must be found and charged. Zero tolerance for harassing a public servant,” he said.
Police are investigating after the 20-second clip was shared on social media.
Metropolitan Police tweeted: “We are aware of a video being shared online showing an incident in St James’s Park.
“Officers spoke to all those involved at the time and their details were taken.
“We are in contact with the victim and the circumstances continue to be investigated.”
The widely-shared footage has sparked a heated reaction, with a number of MPs swift to condemn those involved and some figures calling for police protection for key scientific advisers during the pandemic.
Labour MP Jess Phillips said Prof Whitty had been made to feel “awful and uncomfortable” and issued a reminder that public figures “are human beings”.
Actor and TV and radio presenter Adil Ray said it was “an utterly disgusting way to treat a person who has devoted his time to save our lives”.
Former chief prosecutor Nazir Afzal called for protection for Prof Whitty and other scientists advising the government over pandemic-fighting measures.
“I know that if he was the statue of someone with a dubious past, he would have a dozen strong security detail,” Mr Afzal tweeted. “This is just the latest incident of harassment involving the Chief Medical Advisor.”
And TV news presenter Simon McCoy tweeted: “This is a complete disgrace. Chris Whitty should be protected from idiots like these.”
It is not the first time Prof Whitty has been forced to endure public harassment.
Earlier this month, he was confronted in a street in Oxford by a man accusing him of lying to the public about coronavirus while in February a man accosted the chief medical officer outside Westminster.