Michael Gove told a Commons public administration committee that the UK was not prepared for an epidemic like the coronavirus.
The chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster told MPs that disaster preparation plans did not factor in a highly contagious respiratory disease like Covid-19.
Gove said that the government’s previous epidemic planning – known as Operation Cygnus – was focused on a response to a global influenza.
He said: ‘The government had a dossier on threats to the country, including a global influenza… but nothing quite like Covid-19.’
He added: ‘The work that was done in exercise Cygnus was designed to anticipate what would happen in flu pandemic. The exact nature of this virus meant that response had to be recalibrated.’
Health minister Matt Hancock addressed parliament in March saying the UK was one of the best prepared countries to face a pandemic in the world. Britain is now on course to have one of the worst coronavirus death rates in Europe.
Gove insisted the government was constantly changing its response to the virus as more information on its behaviour came to light. He also refused to disclose what means the government used to assess the impact of social distancing measures.