The Health Secretary says he regrets not overruling scientists who claimed asymptomatic transmission of Covid was unlikely.
Speaking to a committee of MPs, Matt Hancock said this was the formal advice in early 2020 despite evidence to the contrary.
He says he first heard of asymptomatic transmission in January last year and was ‘so worried about it’ that he arranged a call with the World Health Organisation.
Hancock claims he was told on the call that there was ‘likely a mistranslation’ of guidance coming from China at the time.
After that, he says the UK couldn’t get any evidence to prove that asymptomatic transmission was a real problem.
He told MPs: ‘Even though the formal advice I was receiving was asymptomatic transmission was unlikely and we shouldn’t base policy on that – I should have overruled that.
He added: ‘I was in a situation of not having hard evidence that a global scientific consensus of decades was wrong but having an instinct that it was.
‘I bitterly regret that I didn’t overrule that scientific advice at the start and say we should proceed on the basis that there is asymptomatic transmission until we know that there isn’t rather than the other way round.’
However, committee chairman Greg Clark pointed minutes from a meeting of the SAGE group of UK advisers from January 28 said there was limited evidence of asymptomatic transmission.
They said ‘early indications imply some is occurring and that Public Health England was developing a paper on this.
Today’s committee hearing on the Government’s handling of the Covid pandemic gave Hancock the chance to respond to a number of serious claims made by Dominic Cummings.
Boris Johnson’s former aide accused the Health Secretary of dishonesty and incompetence and said he ‘should have been fired for at least 15 to 20 things including lying’.
One of his most shocking claims is that Hancock told the Prime Minister in March that people in hospital would be tested before being sent back to care homes, despite a lack of capacity to do so.
The Health Secretary denied this and said he answered ‘questions – both in public and in private – to the best of my ability’.
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