Tens of 1000’s of lives might have been saved if the UK had locked down three weeks earlier, Matt Hancock has informed the Covid inquiry, as he described the operation of Boris Johnson’s Downing Road as undermined by a “tradition of concern”.
The previous well being secretary stated his employees have been abused by Dominic Cummings and that Johnson’s then chief adviser tried to exclude ministers and even Johnson himself from key selections firstly of the pandemic, hampering the federal government’s response.
“It inculcated a tradition of concern, whereas what we wanted was a tradition the place all people was dropped at the desk and given their heads to do their degree greatest in a once-in-a-generation disaster,” stated Hancock. “The best way to guide in a disaster like that is to present folks the arrogance to do what they suppose must occur. And it triggered the other of that.”
Hancock argued that on reflection the perfect date for a primary lockdown would have been three weeks sooner than the eventual date of 23 March 2020, saying this might have prevented about 90% of the dying toll within the first Covid wave, or greater than 30,000 lives.
“With hindsight, the primary second we realistically might have cracked it was 2 March,” he stated. “That’s the second we should always have carried out it, and it might have saved many, many lives.”
Whereas repeatedly crucial of Cummings, calling him “a malign actor” who unfold misinformation, Hancock didn’t blame dysfunction in No 10 for the delay, saying that on the time the progress of the virus was unclear whereas the implications of lockdown have been “identified and large”.
Hancock nonetheless painted a vivid image of persona clashes and what he termed “an influence seize” by Cummings, additionally saying he was not informed concerning the then chancellor Rishi Sunak’s flagship “Eat out to assist out” scheme to subsidise restaurant meals in summer season 2020 till the day it was introduced.
The inquiry was proven messages between Hancock and Simon Case, the cupboard secretary, later that summer season through which Hancock stated the scheme shouldn’t be prolonged. It was, he wrote, “inflicting issues in our intervention areas – I’ve saved it out of the information but it surely’s severe”.
Hancock additionally got here below intense and typically troublesome questioning from Hugo Keith KC, the inquiry lead counsel, who challenged him to offer proof for his declare that he urged Johnson to order a lockdown on 13 March 2020, and compelled an admission that the declare of a “protecting ring” round care properties had been deceptive.
Describing the buildup to the pandemic, Hancock stated that in February 2020 Cummings upended the same old emergency conferences system by organising a each day assembly in his personal workplace involving “a subset” of individuals.
Hancock stated: “He didn’t invite any ministers. He didn’t regard ministers as a precious contribution to any decision-making so far as I might see within the disaster or, certainly, every other time.” Cummings, he added, suggested on the time that selections “don’t have to go to the prime minister”. This construction actively hampered the response to the virus on the time, Hancock stated.
In different proof to the inquiry, Hancock pushed again towards criticisms that the well being division he led in 2020 was chaotic and apt to overpromise, saying it was usually simply doing work different components of presidency had uncared for.
“From the center of January  we have been successfully making an attempt to lift the alarm, making an attempt to get up Whitehall to the dimensions of the issue,” he stated. “Getting the machine on the centre of presidency up and working was extremely exhausting and took an enormous quantity of effort.”
“We rubbed up towards this deep unpleasantness on the centre,” Hancock added. “It was unhelpful in assuming that when something was troublesome or a problem subsequently there was in some way fault and blame.”
Keith challenged Hancock about his remark at a Covid press convention in mid-Might 2020 that ministers had positioned “a protecting ring” round care properties from the beginning of the pandemic, which the previous well being secretary accepted was on reflection deceptive. “I used to be making an attempt to easily summarise that we had taken motion,” Hancock stated. “I solely perceive why folks really feel strongly about this.”