Hancock insists government has made the ‘right decisions at the right time’ over lockdown

Matt Hancock is interviewed by Andrew Marr. Photograph: BBC.

Matt Hancock is interviewed by Andrew Marr. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

Health secretary Matt Hancock has insisted the government made the 'right decisions at the right time' with the coronavirus lockdown, despite a leading scientist saying lives would have been saved had ministers acted sooner.

Hancock hit back at claims from an infectious diseases expert Professor John Edmunds, who suggested the UK should have imposed restrictions in early March - although he admitted it would have been 'very hard to pull the trigger at that point'.

Prof Edmunds, who attends meetings of the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), told The Andrew Marr Show: 'We should have gone into lockdown earlier.

'I think it would have been hard to do it, I think the data that we were dealing with in the early part of March and our kind of situational awareness was really quite poor.

'And so I think it would have been very hard to pull the trigger at that point but I wish we had - I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier. I think that has cost a lot of lives unfortunately.'

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Prof Edmunds, who said the Covid-19 epidemic 'is definitely not all over', has previously spoken of herd immunity as a way to end the spread of the virus, but told Marr this could be done via vaccination.

'What I said about herd immunity was that that's how the epidemic eventually will end - and it will end via herd immunity.

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'Via vaccination is how we want it to be achieved but that's how all epidemics come to an end, and so we will be under these restrictions in some way until levels of immunity are such in the population that we don't have to take extra precautions to stop chains of transmission.'

Asked if he agreed with the professor's comments, Hancock later replied: 'No. I think we took the right decisions at the right time.

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'And there's a broad range on Sage of scientific opinion, and we were guided by the science - which means guided by the balance of that opinion - as expressed to ministers through the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser.

'That's the right way for it to have been done.'

Hancock also said it was 'undoubtedly a risk' that the protests would lead to more coronavirus cases, and urged people not to gather in groups of more than six people.

He also dismissed as 'not true' comments by the UK statistics authority that testing figures are designed to show the largest possible number of tests.

The body's chairman Sir David Norgrove said last week: 'The aim seems to be to show the largest possible number of tests, even at the expense of understanding.'

Asked about the comment, Hancock told Andrew Marr: 'The thing about it is that it is not true. There are other ways that you could measure testing to give much higher figures and we chose not to.

'What we chose, advised by my permanent secretary, are the most accurate ways to show the testing that the government is doing, which is the number of tests either directly administered or sent out.'

Acting Leader of the Liberal Democrats Ed Davey said warned that we could 'sleep walk' into a second wave.

He said: 'The health secretary has said that the government is following the science, yet a senior SAGE epidemiologist again stated that the lockdown started too late and the new easing of lockdown was happening too quickly.

'Matt Hancock also confirmed that the country is still at level 4 in its own Coronavirus warning system, but the government continue to ease the lockdown anyway. This could be yet another reckless move.

'Without the critical Test, Trace and Isolate infrastructure in place, abandoning the advice of senior epidemiologists this government looks increasingly near sleep walking into another rise of Coronavirus in the UK.'

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