Government 'got things wrong' in Covid response, says former health secretary

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt has told ITV News the government "got things wrong" in its response to the Covid pandemic, as MPs launch an inquiry scrutinising Number 10's actions.

Mr Hunt - who is chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee - stressed the importance of "learning lessons" from the coronavirus outbreak.

"It's impossible to get everything right when it's a brand new pandemic," he said and identified key issues to be examined by the inquiry:

"Things like controlling the levels of infections in hospitals [...] making sure that care homes are safe, being able to ramp up testing much more quickly, getting the right relationship between scientists and politicians."

The Health and Social Care Committee and Science and Technology Committee is hearing evidence to examine the effectiveness of the action taken by Boris Johnson's government, as well as the advice it has received from experts.

It comes as new restrictions, including the temporary closure of pubs and restaurants in areas of northern England with soaring infection rates, could soon come into force.

Speaking on Thursday, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick refused to say whether such action will be taken.

Pubs and restaurants in Manchester have stayed open through local coronavirus restrictions. Credit: PA

On the potential closure of hospitality venues in the north of the country, Mr Hunt said the measures "may be necessary".

He told ITV News: "We want to avoid that situation that we had earlier in the year when we were faced with that national lockdown, so that means acting quickly and decisively.

The former health secretary added it was important to "be alive to the data" during the pandemic and "try things" based on changes in the outbreak.

"You just have to try things and go forward haltingly, stop, go into reverse, go forward again," he said.

"We have to be prepared to change direction when we've got a virus that can change direction at every opportunity".

The inquiry into the government's response to the pandemic will hear from witnesses about the impact coronavirus has had on the social care sector as well as BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) communities.

It will also look at the effectiveness of testing and contact tracing as well as the government’s communications and public health messaging.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, following his announcement allowing holidays from July 4 Credit: Andrew Parsons/PA

Other key areas in the spotlight will be the deployment of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lockdown and social distancing rules to manage the pandemic, as well as the development of treatments and vaccines.

The committees will also look at modelling and the use of statistics, as well as the UK’s prior preparedness for a pandemic.