Matt Hancock claims the country entered lockdown a week before Boris Johnson’s announcement

Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire

Health Secretary Matt Hancock in the House of Commons. Photograph: House of Commons/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Health secretary Matt Hancock has claimed the UK entered lockdown a week before Boris Johnson officially announced it.

Hancock attempted to bat away Labour questions highlighting comments from Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's chief scientific adviser, in which he suggested Sage advised ministers on March 16 to move to a full lockdown as soon as possible.

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth questioned why there was a seven-day delay in taking such a decision.

Ashworth asked: 'Why did it take a further seven days for the government to implement lockdown if Sage was advising March 16?'

But Hancock told the Commons: 'Of course March 16 is the day when I came to this House and said that all unnecessary social contact should cease.

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'That is precisely when the lockdown was started and... it is unusual to be attacked for saying exactly the same as the chief scientific adviser.'

PM Johnson addressed the nation on March 23 to announce a full lockdown, with the UK public told they were only allowed to leave their homes for limited reasons, including shopping for food, exercise once per day, medical need and travelling for work when absolutely necessary.

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All shops selling non-essential goods were also told to close while gatherings of more than two people in public were banned.

Labour MP Zarah Sultana warned that the delay could have cost 'thousands of lives'.

'The secretary of state has just suggested that he responded by advising people to practise social distancing on that date, but advising people to socially distance is not the same as imposing a lockdown. That week-long delay could have cost thousands of lives.

'Why did the government fail to act when SAGE called on them to, and does the Secretary of State regret that delay?'

Hancock attempted to repeat the answer, sparking cries of 'Orwellian!' from opposition MP Liz Kendall.

With a grin, he continued: 'What I said on 16 March was 'today, we are advising people against all unnecessary social contact with others and all unnecessary travel.' That is when the lockdown truly started.'

There was laughter in the chamber at the audacity of the response.

Earlier Sir Patrick told the House of Commons science and technology committee that the scientists had advised a full lockdown almost a week before it happened.

He said: 'When the Sage subgroup on modelling, Spi-M, saw that the doubling time had gone down to three days, which was in the middle of March, that's when the advice which Sage issued was the remainder of the measures should be introduced as soon as possible.

'And that advice I think was given on March 18, or March 16.'

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