Matt Hancock tells Covid inquiry he is 'profoundly sorry’ for every death caused by pandemic

The former Health Secretary was scathing in his assessment of how prepared Britain was for the pandemic.

Matt Hancock has insisted he is “profoundly sorry” for every death caused by Covid-19 and admitted it was a “colossal” failure to assume the spread of the virus could not be stopped.

In a gruelling appearance before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in London on Tuesday, the former health secretary said he understood some people would find it difficult to accept his apology, but added it was “honest and heartfelt”.

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In a three-hour session, Mr Hancock claimed planning was focused on availability of body bags and where to bury the dead, instead of how to stop the pandemic happening.

Former health secretary Matt Hancock, giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London.Former health secretary Matt Hancock, giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London.
Former health secretary Matt Hancock, giving evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry at Dorland House in London.

He said: “The problem with the UK plan was that once we got to community transmission, it was wrongly assumed it wasn’t possible to stop the spread.”

Under questioning from Hugo Keith KC, he also suggested pandemic plans focusing on flu was not the "central flaw", and claimed there was not "a day that goes by" he does not think about those who died due to Covid.

Mr Hancock told the inquiry the “central failing” that hampered the UK’s response, common with the rest of the western world, “was the refusal and the explicit decision that it would not be possible to halt the spread of a new pandemic – that is wrong and that is at the centre of the failure of preparation”.

The inquiry, chaired by Baroness Heather Hallett, also heard medicines for intensive care were “within hours” of running out at the peak of the pandemic, but claimed preparing for a no-deal Brexit had kept reserves up.

Mr Hancock, who will leave the Commons at the next general election, also told the hearing he didn't know how many care homes there were at the outbreak of the pandemic, despite his role as health secretary.

He described the situation as “terrible”, when asked whether the social care sector was prepared for a pandemic. But he insisted the responsibility “formally fell to local authorities” and he “didn’t have the levers to act”.

Repeatedly criticising the UK Government’s readiness, he claimed there had been a lack of forward thinking about mandatory quarantine, shielding, social restrictions and border control.

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The East Sussex MP said, going forward, all health and social care settings should hold a mandatory amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) owing to the fact it had been “incredibly difficult” to get supplies out to where they were needed during Covid.

The former I’m a Celeb contestant argued the country needed to be prepared to lockdown early in future to stop a virus spreading, adding to accept a virus would just pass between people was “implicitly an assumption and a decision that those most vulnerable to it will be hardest hit”.

Elsewhere, Mr Hancock told the inquiry “one of the major problems we had early on was the fact that Covid-19 has asymptomatic transmission”.

He said the WHO [World Health Organisation] assumption until around April 2020 was that asymptomatic transmission “wasn’t possible” and this was a mistake.

After he finished giving evidence, Mr Hancock walked over to the public gallery to speak to families who lost loved ones during the pandemic, only to be shouted at and told to “go away”.



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