The now-notorious statement – which ignored the discharge of patients from hospital without Covid tests – came “much later about what we were doing for the winter plan”, the health secretary insisted.
But TV footage shows Mr Hancock made the claim in May 2020, at a Downing Street press conference, and that he was arguing he had protected care homes throughout.
“Right from the start, we’ve tried to throw a protective ring around our care homes,” the watching public was told. “We set out our first advice in February and, as the virus grew, we strengthened it throughout.”
On the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Hancock was asked: “That phrase ‘protective ring’ - do you at least regret that, it wasn’t true was it?”
But the health secretary replied: “I said that much later about what we were doing for the winter plan and it’s been interpreted.”
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s shadow health secretary, accused him of “a clumsily blatant attempt to rewrite history”.
And Layla Moran, chair of the all-party parliamentary group on coronavirus, said: “Matt Hancock claimed that from the start the government had tried to throw a protective ring around care homes – yet the evidence shows this is far from the case.”
Mr Hancock – who faces MPs this week about the explosive allegations of his multiple “lying” made by Dominic Cummings – did issue his first firm denial about the most serious claim.
Boris Johnson’s ousted former adviser told the inquiry that the prime minister was promised there would be testing before discharges – and was furious to later find out the truth.
Mr Cummings claimed Mr Johnson said, in “less polite” terms: “Hancock told us in the Cabinet Room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes, what the hell happened?”
But, asked by Mr Marr: “Did you tell Boris Johnson, in March, that people sent from hospitals into care homes were being tested, when you knew they weren’t”, Mr Hancock replied: “No, I did not.”
Last month, Mr Cummings told the MPs: “All the government rhetoric of ‘we put a shield around care homes’ and blah blah, was complete nonsense.”
Mr Ashworth added: “We were promised a protective ring round care homes, but the tragic reality is the Health Secretary failed to provide care home workers with PPE, adequate sick pay entitlement and – as he admitted today – chose not to test those discharged from hospital into social care.
“Families who lost loved ones deserve a full explanation as to why care homes were left so exposed.”
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