LONDON (Reuters) – England’s deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam, whose use of colourful metaphors and similes became a hallmark of the British government’s COVID-19 news conferences, said on Thursday he was leaving the role and returning to academic life.
Van-Tam, 57, used analogies from flying, soccer and rail travel to explain the state of the struggle with the pandemic, winning praise for his clear communication of complex issues.
He warned the public not to “tear the pants out of it” when the government began to ease COVID lockdown restrictions.
A keen soccer fan, Van-Tam told the public in November that “the final whistle hasn’t blown” in the pandemic. He also said during the early stages of the pandemic: “It’s clear the away team gave us an absolute battering.”
The announcement of his resignation came the day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued an apology for an event held at his official Downing Street residence during the first national lockdown.
But a government official said the resignation was not directly related to political developments. Van-Tam remains in his post until the end of March.
Van-Tam, who was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth in the New Year’s honours list for his services fighting the pandemic, will return to the University of Nottingham, from where he has been on secondment since 2017.
“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,” he said.
Van-Tam said metaphors “bring complex stories to life for people”, adding he regularly tested them on his wife before sharing them with the public.
Britain’s health minister Sajid Javid said he was “hugely grateful” for Van-Tam’s advice. Matt Hancock, the former health minister, called Van-Tam “one of the best public health communicators in history”.
(Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; editing by Michael Holden and Gareth Jones)