“We took the right measures at the right time”

Matt Hancock, Today Programme

April 11, 2020

Facts

After the UK death toll from Covid-19 rose by 980 to 8,958 in April 2020, which was the biggest daily rise the UK had seen at that time, BBC host Mishal Hussain asked Matt Hancock:

BBC host Mishal Husain asked: "Had our lockdown come sooner, some of those 980 would not have been affected, would they?"

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr Hancock said: "We're not sure that's quite right. We took the right measures at the right time.”

The government introduced a lockdown 53 days after the initial outbreak. To give one example, the Cheltenham Festival was allowed to continue when other countries had already introduced strict lockdown measures. 

 There are different factors that contribute to nations’ individual caseloads and death tolls, but it seems clear that had the government locked down sooner, more lives would have been saved. 

Prof Neil Ferguson, who sat on the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) during the early stages of the pandemic and told a House of Commons committee: “Had we introduced lockdown a week earlier we’d have reduced the final death toll by at least half”.

On the subject of testing, Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance suggested his colleagues at Public Health England had failed to increase testing as quickly as was needed to control the spread of the virus. Speaking on ITV’s weekly “Coronavirus Q&A” show, Vallance admitted the rollout on testing had been too slow and added that it needs to go beyond only testing NHS workers but “to look at outbreaks and isolate”, as has been successful in places like Germany and South Korea. 

At the same press conference three days later, Prof Yvonne Doyle, from Public Health England, was far more honest in her appraisal of how the response had been handled, saying, "undoubtedly we perhaps could have done things differently." 

A joint report published by The House of Commons Science and Technology and Health and Social Care Committees into the British government's handling of the coronavirus pandemic was published on 12th October 2021. It identified important errors, speaking of a   “a serious mistake to get to the point where community testing was stopped early in the pandemic. A country with a world-class expertise in data analysis should not have faced the biggest health crisis in a hundred years with virtually no data to analyse. This problem was compounded by a failure of national public bodies involved in the response to share such data as was available with each other, including between national and local government.” The report also said that “a full lockdown was inevitable and should have come sooner.” It added that “The slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance of the test, trace and isolate system severely hampered the UK’s response to the pandemic.”

Verdict

Hancock made a sweeping claim and may well have believed that he was telling Today programme listeners the truth. The facts- and a subsequent parliamentary report - contradict his argument.

When we asked Matt Hancock to respond to the claims laid out in this website, a spokesperson said: “This list is false, wildly inaccurate, and in some cases possibly even defamatory. For example claiming that some of Matt's claims in the Commons were in defiance of the ministerial code, when they were in fact accurate. The priority throughout this unprecedented pandemic has been saving lives.” 

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