UK’s health secretary rebuts criticism of some of his virus-related decisions
Pressure mounted on the United Kingdom’s health secretary on Thursday following a high-profile claim that his response to the novel coronavirus pandemic was flawed and cost tens of thousands of lives.
Matt Hancock responded by telling members of Parliament he stood by his pandemic-related decisions and actions, and that claims made a day earlier by a former senior government advisor would not distract him from his work.
The UK’s official opposition, the Labour Party, remained unconvinced and called on Hancock to resign following the appearance on Wednesday before a parliamentary committee of Dominic Cummings, a former confident and senior advisor of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
In his testimony before the cross-party committee of lawmakers looking into whether lessons can be learned from the government’s handling of the pandemic, Cummings claimed Hancock had lied to Parliament and to the public and deserved to be fired.
He alleged the minister’s “criminal, disgraceful behavior” caused “serious harm”.
Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said on the BBC’s Breakfast television News program on Thursday: “No minister who lies to the public, especially not with the consequences that we have had, should stay in their post.”
Rayner claimed Hancock’s alleged lies led to “thousands of deaths in our care homes”. She said the government had exhibited a “cavalier attitude “toward people in those homes, who she said were not adequately protected during the early days of the pandemic, in the spring of 2020.
During his seven hours in front of the committee, Cummings said Johnson should have fired Hancock for “at least 15 to 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet Room and publicly”.
Cummings, who left Downing Street in the fall following an internal power struggle, claimed Hancock had promised there was testing in care homes and protection of residents when there was not.
The former insider alleged targets Hancock set for the number of COVID-19 tests conducted each day caused chaos.
He also alleged Hancock made errors that led to shortages of PPE, and that he lied when he said everyone in the UK requiring treatment got what they needed.
Hancock and the Conservative Party have vehemently denied Cummings’ claims, which Sky News described as a “calculated political assassination” that left Hancock “fighting for his political life”.
Hancock began that fight on Thursday by saying he had always been “straight with people in public and private”.
He insisted his overwhelming consideration had always been “what must I do to protect life?”.
“That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic,” he told lawmakers.
Hancock seemed to bristle at claims he had lied, saying: “I welcome the opportunity to come to the House (of Commons) to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true.”
He said his desire for openness had led him to attend the House of Commons more than 60 times since January 2020 where he made 2,667 contributions to debates. He said he had also participated in 84 News conferences.
“I have answered questions from colleagues, the media, and the public,” he said. “We will keep on with this spirit of openness and transparency throughout.”
Hancock added that the government’s pandemic response will be analyzed in detail during an upcoming public inquiry that “must and will cover the entire United Kingdom”.