Hancock says UK’s pandemic strategy was wrong


Hancock said a “huge error in the doctrine” in place before Covid arrived in early 2020 meant a lack of resources into testing and contact tracing to prevent the spread of any virus…reports Asian Lite News

Matt Hancock has admitted that the UK was not properly prepared for the Covid pandemic – claiming officials were more concerned with counting body bags than preventing the spread of the virus.

Speaking at the Covid inquiry on Tuesday, the former health secretary described planning failures as an “absolute tragedy” and repeatedly insisted that the government’s approach had been “completely wrong”.

He conceded that pre-pandemic plans to protect care homes had been “terrible”, saying the care sector was in “nowhere near good-enough shape” when Covid struck.

Hancock also revealed that the UK came “within hours” of running out of vital medicines for intensive care units at the height of the pandemic – but said planning for a no-deal Brexit meant hospitals were able to cope.

Hancock apologised directly to the families of Covid victims – dramatically turning to address the bereaved in the public seating area. “I’m profoundly sorry for each death,” he told them. “In understand why for some it will be hard to take that apology from me – I understand that. I get it. But it is honest and heartfelt.”

Lorelei King, 69, showed Hancock a poster featuring her husband Vincent Marzello, who died in a care home in March 2020 at the age of 72, alongside the then-health secretary. “You shook my husband’s hand for your photo op,” the poster was captioned.

The senior Tory began the hearing by strongly condemning the underlying “doctrine” of the government was that it “would not be possible to stop a pandemic”, revealing that planning revolved around finding “enough body bags” and “burying the dead”.

Hancock said a “huge error in the doctrine” in place before Covid arrived in early 2020 meant a lack of resources into testing and contact tracing to prevent the spread of any virus.

“The attitude the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster – can we buy enough body bags, where are we going to bury the dead. And that was completely wrong,” he said.

“Large scale testing did not exist, and large-scale contact tracing did not exist, because it was assumed that as soon as there was community transmission it wouldn’t be possible to stop the spread, and therefore what’s the point in contact tracing. That was completely wrong,” he told the inquiry.

In written evidence Hancock told the inquiry that he was advised when he came into the role of health secretary in July 2018 that the UK was “a world leader” in preparations for a pandemic.

He told the inquiry on Tuesday that the advice was based on a very positive assessment of the UK’s readiness by the World Health Organisation [WHO]. “When you’re assured by the leading global authority that the UK is the best prepared in the world, that is quite a significant reassurance”, said Hancock. “That turned out to be wrong.”

Challenged on why he did not enforce changes at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Hancock pointed the finger at civil servants, telling the inquiry’s lawyer: “There was no recommendation to resolve those problems.”

Hancock admitted that he did not attend any meeting of a sub-committee of the National Security Council that was responsible for pandemic planning. Hancock also revealed that the government’s influenza pandemic strategy was never updated after 2011.

On the period between his arrival in July 2018 and Covid’s arrival in early 2020, he added: “In hindsight wish I’d spent that short period of time … changing that entire attitude about how we respond to a pandemic.”

The ex-health secretary said he was told by officials that the UK had significant plans in place for protective personal equipment (PPE). “The problem was it was extremely hard to get it our fast enough when the crisis hit,” he said.

On testing, he said: “We developed a test in the first few days after the genetic code of Covid-19 was published. The problem was there was no plan in place to scale testing that … we could execute.”

Hancock also said he had “pushed hard” on the lack of UK vaccine manufacturing before Covid hit. “I thought in a pandemic scenario … it would be hard to get hold of vaccine doses if they were physically manufactured overseas no matter what our contracts said,” he told the inquiry.

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