Matt Hancock admits UK government made mistakes over Covid-19

British Health Secretary acknowledges a series of errors in how the pandemic has been tackled

FILE PHOTO: British Health Secretary Matt Hancock speaks in the House of Commons Chamber about the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in London, Britain, October 15, 2020. UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. IMAGE MUST NOT BE ALTERED/File Photo
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UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock admitted the government made mistakes in how it handled the coronavirus pandemic.

In a testy interview on Good Morning Britain, Mr Hancock appeared to acknowledge the government underestimated the threat Covid-19 posed to the UK after the outbreak in Wuhan in early 2020.

Mr Hancock was shown a clip of a speech he made in the House of Commons in January when he said the threat to British citizens from the coronavirus was low.

He said there were errors in the quarantine arrangements for new arrivals and people at care homes and funerals but dodged host Piers Morgan's question on whether he would resign.

"We’ve made mistakes. Absolutely," Mr Hancock said, appearing on the programme for the first time in six months after government-imposed boycott was lifted.

“I’ll give you one – when we first put out the guidance for funerals, it was interpreted as being so tight that your spouse couldn’t go to the funeral of somebody who died of coronavirus. That was wrong and we've changed it.”

He was repeatedly asked why the UK kept its borders open while countries such as Taiwan and New Zealand, which have suppressed the virus, closed their borders to non-citizens.

“One of the problems with the disease is that we only learnt about halfway through spring that the disease passes through asymptomatically. Previous coronaviruses only pass on when people have symptoms," Mr Hancock said.

“We need to be careful because every single person could be passing it on even if they don’t have symptoms.”

Mr Hancock said the government moved to tighten rules for care homes, where thousands of Britons died from coronavirus, after discovering the disease could be transmitted by people who did not show symptoms.

“My heart goes out to people in this situation,” he said.

Earlier, the health secretary struggled to defend Downing Street's Covid rules after Boris Johnson was forced into self-isolation.

A photo taken after a meeting between Mr Johnson and an MP who later tested positive for coronavirus appears to show the pair not standing two metres apart.

Asked why no masks were worn in the meeting, Mr Hancock said they were not required at Downing Street despite the risk to the functioning of government.

He said: “I’ve absolutely no doubt the prime minister will be able to drive the agenda forward and communicate with the public in the way that he does normally but just differently because it will be by video conference and not face to face because he’s self-isolating.”

The news comes on the same day the government announced two new "mega labs" to boost daily testing capacity to one million.