Covid Inquiry: Sadiq Khan says 'lives could've been saved' as regional mayors give evidence

The Mayor of London told the Covid Inquiry 'lives could have been saved' if he'd been allowed to attend emergency meetings earlier - ITV News' Romilly Weeks reports.

Sadiq Khan said "lives could have been saved" if he had been allowed to attend early coronavirus Cobra meetings, claiming Downing Street kept him "in the dark".

The Mayor of London was among the regional mayors giving evidence to the Covid-19 Inquiry on Monday. They all delivered similarly critical assessments of the government's handling of the pandemic in its early days.

Both Mr Khan and the Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, accused the government of ignoring their repeated requests to attend emergency Cabinet meetings in March 2020.

Mr Burnham said he was "astonished" by what he called the government's "massively centralised" response to the pandemic, while Mr Khan said there was "no explanation" for the absence of regional figures in key government meetings.

The regional mayors' evidence marked the start of another highly anticipated week at the Inquiry, with former Health Secretary Matt Hancock and ex-Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab among those on the timetable over the coming days.

'Lives could have been saved if we went earlier', admits London Mayor Sadiq Khan

Answering questions about the early days of the pandemic, Mayor of London Mr Khan said he wasn't allowed to attend early Cobra meetings because No. 10 said other mayors would have to be present.

"I was told that something in London was different because I was told the pandemic was having an impact on London ahead of the rest of the country," Mr Khan told the Inquiry. “The government was aware of the challenges in ICU, the challenges in our hospitals, and the government was aware of community transmission in London.”

Later describing being confused about why he could not attend the meetings, Mr Khan said: “In this particular case, I can see no explanation at all why… the Greater London Authority, the Mayor of London were not around the table. “I think lives could have been saved if we were there earlier.”

He later said: “I had been kept in the dark as the elected Mayor of London and I felt almost winded in relation to what was happening in London and also realising there were things we could have done in relation to some of these issues.”

“I was alarmed by what I was being told in relation to where we were and where we may go to," he added. "I will never forget that sort of feeling of lack of power, lack of influence, not knowing what was happening in our city.”

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham said he 'repeatedly' asked the government if he could attend early Cobra meetings about the virus

Matt Hancock knew Tier 3 restrictions would not work when he imposed them on Greater Manchester, the Covid inquiry also heard on Monday. Mr Burnham accused the government of administering a “punishment beating” for the city in late 2020, following an argument over financial support for residents who were unable to work due to the restrictions. Quoting from written evidence from Mr Hancock, Mr Burnham said: “He says in his evidence about Tier 3, ‘I was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work.’” Mr Burnham also referred to a minute of the “Covid-O” committee, responsible for co-ordinating the government’s operational response to the crisis, which he said discussed a “punishment beating for Greater Manchester”. Reading from the minute, he said: “Lancashire should have a lighter set of measures imposed than Greater Manchester since they had shown a greater willingness to co-operate. “Tougher measures should be imposed on Greater Manchester that day.”

Mr Burnham added: “Because we stood up for people in our city region who would otherwise have really struggled had they gone into that lockdown without the funds to help them, because we took that stand they decided to make an example of us.

“It’s unbelievable for me now to look at evidence saying they knew it didn’t work, they knew Tier 3 didn’t work. “They knew that, but they were still going to impose it on us without enough financial support."

The tier system was introduced in October 2020 and imposed different restrictions on English regions in an effort to contain the spread of Covid-19. It was, however, unable to curb infections and another national lockdown was imposed in November.

'All hell broke loose', says Andy Burnham, as he recalls the moment Greater Manchester was put under local restrictions

Mr Burnham went onto say that "all hell broke loose" when Mr Hancock announced the tougher local restrictions for Greater Manchester in October 2020, giving him only an hour's notice to discuss the new measures with local leaders.

Saying the situation was “as chaotic as it gets”, he said: “What I remember is about 8 o’clock that night, the health secretary gave a very cursory announcement to a TV camera in 4 Millbank that we would be going under these restrictions and then all hell broke loose.”

Speaking later on Monday, Steve Rotheram, Liverpool City's Metro Mayor, said he had to have 24-hour police protection after Tier 3 measures were announced for his area.

Giving evidence, Mr Rotheram said he had previously agreed with Boris Johnson that they should work together on announcing the move in autumn 2020 because of the importance of public co-operation. However, later the same day, Mr Johnson independently announced the restrictions.

"Without any notification to me, then we had to try and pick up the pieces," Mr Rotheram recalled. "Twitter literally blew up. My team said there were thousands (of posts) and that resulted in all sorts of threats and unintended consequences," he added. Asked to elaborate, Mr Rotheram said: “There were direct threats (to me) and that resulted in the chief constable having to post 24-hour security.”

Mr Hancock is due to give evidence to the Covid inquiry on Thursday and Friday.

Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove and former Health Secretary Sajid Javid will also appear this week, alongside former deputy chief medical officer Professor Dame Jenny Harries. Mr Hancock in particular has faced repeated criticism from a number of witnesses, who have expressed concern about his performance as health secretary.

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