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Covid inquiry live: Matt Hancock grilled over affair scandal in awkward exchange

Hancock appears before inquiry again after conceding government should have locked down earlier and denying claims that he is a liar

Matt Hancock questioned over resignation after affair with Gina Coladangelo

Matt Hancock has admitted his affair with aide Gina Coladangelo in breach of his own lockdown rules damaged public confidence, as he gave evidence to the Covid inquiry.

Taking the stand for a second day on Friday, the ex-health secretary suggested that “the lesson for the future is very clear” in that “it is important that those who make the rules abide by them”, adding: “I resigned in order to take accountability for my failure to do that.”

Mr Hancock also defended his decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes without testing them for Covid-19 as “rational and reasonable”, adding: “Nobody has yet brought to me a solution to this problem that I think, even with hindsight, would have resulted in more lives saved.”

The MP claimed on Thursday that a phone call he had with Boris Johnson on 28 February 2020 marked the moment government “really started to come into action”, and claimed that had his own “doctrine” been followed, the first lockdown would have come three weeks earlier – saving 90 per cent of those who died in the first wave.


Hancock was ‘in despair’ over tier system which ‘would not work'

Matt Hancock has told the Covid inquiry that he was “in despair” that the government had announced a tier system it “knew would not work”.

In a witness statement to the inquiry, the former health secretary wrote: “I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.”

Mr Hancock told the Covid inquiry that the tier system would not work because local politicians were “under significant pressure” not to accept measures.

He said that some local political leaders “were not constructive”, adding that in some cases he thought they gave “actively unhelpful input that I felt put politics ahead of public health”.

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 11:14

Regional leaders under ‘political pressure’ to reject lockdowns, claims Hancock

Regional leaders were under “political pressure” to reject the government’s lockdown measures, Matt Hancock has claimed.

The ex-health secretary told the inquiry: “Local leadership had up to that point largely demonstrated they were under significant political pressure not to accept measures.

“There were exceptions to this, for instance the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, who unfortunately is no longer with us, was incredible supportive. We ended up, in Liverpool, with a package of measures that was effective after a very constructive negotiation and discussion.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 11:13

WhatsApps reveal Hancock pushed for tougher Covid measures in autumn 2020

WhatsApp messages between Matt Hancock and top civil servant Simon Case show Matt Hancock warned that tougher measures were needed in October 2020 to avoid a full national lockdown.

The ex-health secretary wrote on 9 October: “We can’t just give up in fighting the virus. We have to stop it regionally now or we will be in full national lockdown in a fortnight.”

Mr Case replied that Boris Johnson was “not willing to go further in terms of national mandation”, adding: “Happy to go further if local leaders want to go further. But PM feels your cabinet colleagues and party won’t support more as national imposition.

But Mr Hancock argued: “It’s not national imposition it’s local. What’s changed overnight? When can I make the case for action - this won’t work and we will massively regret it.”

(Covid inquiry)
Andy Gregory1 December 2023 11:08

Government knew about ‘significant and specific’ care homes risk, says Hancock

The government knew Covid posed was “a significant and specific risk” to those living in care homes more than a month before the decision to discharge hospital patients back into homes, Matt Hancock has said.

Mr Hancock was questioned about the minutes of a meeting on 11 February 2020 about adult social care and Covid, which show it was noted that infections could enter care homes via infected residents, staff and visitors.

Asked what was done to minimise these through routes of infection prior to the hospital discharge policy announced on 19 March, Mr Hancock said: “For context, there were under five cases in the UK at that point, so this is very early on in thinking about how we are going to handle the pandemic.

“But it was clear from this point that the virus had its biggest impact on those who are older and had underlying vulnerabilities. So we knew that there was a problem, and we knew that there was a significant and specific risk for those who lived in care homes.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 11:00

Hancock ‘acutely aware’ of Covid’s impact on ethnic minority NHS staff

Matt Hancock has said he was “acutely aware” of the disproportionate impact of Covid upon ethnic minority healthcare workers.

Mr Hancock said: “I was particularly struck by the death of the first four NHS doctors, three of whom are from an ethnic minority background. I was acutely aware of the disproportionate impact of those from ethnic minority backgrounds, especially among the wider NHS workforce as well, not just the doctors and nurses.

He added: “This is something I was worried about from early in the pandemic. I’d in fact worked on this before the pandemic, including raising the issues of discrimination within the NHS and there was work underway on a particularly difficult issue that came up in NHS BT [Blood and Transplant].

“So there was a wide range of work on this, I was aware on it from the start, and I was very glad when Kemi [Badenoch] was tasked by the prime minister to lead and really get to the bottom of this.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 10:50

Hancock questioned over affair with Gina Coladangelo

Matt Hancock has been questioned about his affair with Gina Coladangelo at the Covid inquiry.

Put to him that his affair was damaging to public confidence, Mr Hancock said: “What I’d say is that the lesson for the future is very clear, and it is important that those who make the rules abide by them, and I resigned in order to take accountability for my failure to do that.”

He agreed that this decision reflected that he understood the “deleterious consequences of rule-breaking” on public confidence.

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 10:37

Hancock recalls ‘harrowing’ fortnight during third lockdown

The fortnight after the third lockdown was announced was “harrowing” as ministers did not know whether the NHS would be overwhelmed by the Alpha variant, Matt Hancock has said.

“By that stage because the case rates were so high we again had to pull every lever which unfortuantely included having to close schools,” said the ex-health secretary.

He added: “I remember the two weeks after that as harrowing, because the case numbers kept going up as they had in March, after we pulled every lever, and there was nothing more we could do.

“And because this was a new strain, we didn’t know whether everything would be enough to get it under control. And thankfully we did get it under control just before the NHS was overwhelmed once again.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 10:33

Hancock feared Sunak putting ‘enormous pressure’ on Johnson against lockdown measures

Matt Hancock said that Rishi Sunak would have put “enormous pressure” not to go far enough in tackling Covid during a meeting on 30 October 2020 – and wanted to close secondary schools instead of shops.

“I am very worried about a rearguard action that has screwed us over too often”, the ex-health secretary wrote in texts sent to chief civil servant Simon Case during the meeting, which Mr Hancock claims he was blocked from attending.

“I was referring to the prime minister making a decision in principle to take action that was necessary to save lives and then others arguing strongly against it afterwards. And I don’t actually know who the others were, because I wouldn’t have been party to those conversations.”

His texts stated: “Rishi is in the room – contrary to the stupid rules – so the PM will be under enormous pressure to not do enough once again.”

(Covid inquiry)
Andy Gregory1 December 2023 10:27

Hancock denounces ‘weak’ Covid proposals in autumn 2020

Matt Hancock said there were various “weak” proposals to deal with rising Covid infections in the autumn of 2020.

“My argument was that we needed to act now both because there’s no trade off between health and economics. But also if we don’t lock down there will be more deaths and we will have to have a tougher lcokdonw in the future,” he told the inquiry.

“So on reflection, and with hindsight, I think that if we’d taken action sooner in September of 2020 then we might for instance have avoided the need to close schools, which in the end we had to because cases were so high in January.”

He added: “By this stage, those arguing against lockdown in parliament were formulating a group, they were coordinated, they were campaigning, and this became more of a problem later on.”

Andy Gregory1 December 2023 10:18

Boris Johnson to appear before inquiry next week

Boris Johnson will appear before the Covid 19 inquiry next Wednesday and Thursday, it has been confirmed.

The former prime minister will answer questions about the government’s decision-making during the pandemic.

Mr Johnson will be the only figure at the inquiry next week, and is scheduled to sit from 10.00am to 4.30pm on both days in a marathon evidence session.

Archie Mitchell has the full report:

Boris Johnson to be grilled at Covid inquiry next week

The former PM will answer questions about his decision-making including the claim he was ‘obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life’

Matt Mathers1 December 2023 09:48

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