LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM — In a three-hour hearing at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, the former health secretary, Matt Hancock, expressed his profound apologies for every death caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The former Conservative MP, now an independent, acknowledged the “colossal” failure in initial assumptions that the virus could not be stopped.
Mr Hancock, set to step down at the next election, said that in the future, the country needed to be prepared to impose lockdowns early to prevent the spread of a virus. He emphasized that allowing the virus to spread assumes those most vulnerable will be hardest hit, an approach he criticized.
Hancock was also critical of the World Health Organisation (WHO), blaming them for advising against lockdowns in a 2017 document. He called this an explicit decision and oversight, which he believed contributed to the UK’s underpreparedness.
Hancock termed the “central failing” of the UK’s response as the refusal to consider the halting of a pandemic’s spread as a viable option. This, he argued, was at the core of the country’s lack of preparation.
Under the questioning of lead counsel to the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC, he also revealed:
The UK was “within hours” of running out of medicines for intensive care at the pandemic’s peak. This was only avoided due to the preparations made for a no-deal Brexit in 2019.
There was a significant lack of forward-thinking about quarantine, shielding, social restrictions, and border control. He had to override initial advice against quarantining individuals arriving from China.
He identified the absence of mass contact tracing systems and large-scale testing as significant shortcomings in the early stages of the pandemic.
Social care sector preparedness was insufficient. Still, he stressed that responsibility fell to local authorities, and he lacked the powers to intervene.
Hancock urged for all health and social care settings to hold mandatory amounts of personal protective equipment (PPE) given the supply chain difficulties experienced during the pandemic.
WHO’s assumption of no asymptomatic transmission until April 2020 was a grave mistake.
Hancock also conceded to “doctrine” failures and the country’s ill-preparedness for such a large-scale health crisis.
“Large-scale testing and contact tracing did not exist because it was assumed that it wouldn’t be possible to stop the spread once community transmission began,” he said, calling this assumption wrong.
Finally, Hancock expressed his deep regret for the toll of the pandemic, offering an honest and heartfelt apology.
He pledged to help the inquiry uncover the truth and learn valuable lessons to prevent similar failures in the future. He voiced concern about the ongoing dismantling of systems needed for future pandemic responses.
Hancock also noted that pre-pandemic assessments placing the UK among the best-prepared nations for a pandemic, including those made by WHO, were proven incorrect.
The inquiry continues its hearings, seeking a comprehensive understanding of the UK’s Covid-19 response.