'I've got to resign': UK health minister steps down

British health minister Matt Hancock quit on Saturday after he was caught breaking COVID-19 rules by kissing and embracing an aide in his office, enraging colleagues and the public who have been living under lockdown.

In the latest scandal to rock a government that has overseen one of the highest death tolls from the coronavirus pandemic, Hancock, 42, wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson to resign, saying he had let people down.

"I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this country has made, that you have made and those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them, and that's why I've got to resign."

Since The Sun newspaper published photos on Friday of the married minister embracing a woman whom he had appointed to a taxpayer-funded role to scrutinize the performance of his department, an increasing number of his fellow Conservative lawmakers had privately called for him to go.

Hancock has been at the center of the government's fight against the pandemic, routinely appearing on television to tell people to follow strict rules and to defend his department against criticism of its response to the crisis.

While Hancock had been heavily criticized for his initial response to the crisis, the government has been boosted by a rapid rollout of vaccines, with 84% of adults having had one dose and 61% both, well ahead of most countries.

Despite the improving situation, the revelations around Hancock had sparked anger and accusations of hypocrisy. They also reignited the charge that Johnson's government is beset by cronyism.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said on Saturday former finance minister Sajid Javid will replace Hancock as the country's health minister.