Hancock didn't know about Eat Out to Help Out until day of announcement, inquiry told

Matt Hancock told the Covid Inquiry he did not know about the Eat Out to Help Out Scheme until the cabinet meeting the day it was announced to the public

The former health secretary went on to say he does not know what he would have said if he had been told about it in advance.

Mr Hancock also admitted the UK went into the first Covid lockdown three weeks too late.

He explained that he regarded February 28 2020, as the “moment that the centre of Government, led by the Prime Minister, really started to come into action".

He said that ministers should have acted on February 28 after seeing Sage's calculation that half a million people could die without intervention.

“Having obviously thought about this and reflected on this a huge deal over the last few years, the first moment we realistically could have really cracked it was on March 2, three weeks earlier than we did.”

Follow latest updates below...

The Covid inquiry has concluded

16:50 , Jordan King

That is the end of the Covid inquiry for today, join us again tomorrow when Mr Hancock is due to finish giving evidence.

Text messages reveal Hancock saying Eat Out to Help Out is 'causing problems'

16:48 , Jordan King

Mr Keith shows the inquiry text messages where Mr Hancock texts cabinet secretary Simon Case saying: "Just want to let you know directly that we have had lots of feedback that East Out to Help Out is causing problems in our intervention areas.

"I've kept it out of the news but it's serious. So please please let's not allow the economic success of the scheme to lead to its extension."

He goes on to say he's told the Treasury, adding: "We've been protecting them in the comms and thankfully it hasn't bubbled up".

Mr Hancock defends not publicising these worries, saying he believes in collective responsibility and doesn't participate in leaks.

Hancock did not know about Eat Out to Help Out scheme until day it was announced

16:43 , Jordan King

The former health secretary claims he had not been told about the programme in advance and only found out about it during the cabinet meeting which took place on the day the public were told about it.

Mr Keith asks: "If you had been told about it in advance, what would you have said?"

Mr Hancock replies: "I don't know".

Hancock concedes care homes weren't protected properly

16:33 , Jordan King

Mr Keith quotes Mr Hancock's comments in May 2020, where he said: "Right from the start we've tried to throw a protective ring around care homes."

Mr Keith then refers to former deputy medical officer for England Professor Van Tam's definition of a ring, which was: "My view is a ring is a circle without a break in it."

Mr Hancock essentially agrees with this definition and says the government did not ensure a full ring of protection.

Inquiry moves on to care homes

16:20 , Jordan King

Mr Hancock is now being questioned about how the government handled care homes during the pandemic.

Hugo Keith KC reminds the inquiry that, as of March 19, hospitals were required to discharge patients to care homes when it was "medically okay" to do so.

Mr Hancock confirms this was not dependent on a negative test, saying simply: "We didn't have enough tests."

Hancock questioned on whether the UK is now ready on testing if another pandemic was to emerge

16:06 , Jordan King

Mr Hancock aired his concern that a testing system capable of being rapidly scaled up might not be ready to go if a new disease emerges.

He told the inquiry: “It’s a vital, vital lesson for the future that we need a testing system ready to go, and I’m worried that that is not there right now in case there’s a pandemic.

“What happens if one of these things, one of these diseases that we’ve read about in the last couple of weeks, the influenza in northern China becomes a pandemic? My question now to the Secretary of State (for health) would be how quickly can we get to 100,000 tests? How quickly are we going to get a vaccine? How quickly are we going to have 5,000 people in a call centre doing contact tracing?”

He said the testing system set up in the pandemic had been understandably “stepped down” but added: “What you need is the ability very rapidly to put it back in place.”

Asked if he has concerns about the UK’s ability to step testing back up, Mr Hancock said: “That is what I’m concerned about. For instance, recently one of the major labs was put on the market. I think it would be better if it were mothballed and ready to go at the flick of a switch.”

Hancock rejects notion that he used 'creative counting'

16:03 , Jordan King

Mr Hancock was shown a message from Mark Sedwill congratulating him on meeting his target to get testing up to 100,000 tests per day, which said: "Well done this evening. Creative counting and 122k!"

Mr Hancock started explaining what he meant by "creative counting" but was stopped "for the sake of time" and given the opportunity to accept or reject the notion.

He said said: “I reject it, and on every different way you could possibly count these measures, we hit that target.”

Lockdown 'wasn't politically divisive' - Hancock

15:50 , Jordan King

On the issue of whether the lockdown was politically divisive, Mr Hancock said it had overwhelming support.

He said it “wasn’t actually politically divisive” adding that “some people forget what actually happened, but it wasn’t divisive at all”.

He added: “There was enormous conceptual support across very large swathes of the population and almost all political leaders.

“And in fact, the fact that it happened in all four nations was led by five political parties, not even four political parties, at the same time demonstrates that.”

Hancock attacks idea of 'waiting for Covid to come to you'

15:44 , Daniel Keane

Matt Hancock said that the idea of “waiting and allowing it to come towards you” was “wrong”.

The former health secretary told the UK Covid-19 Public Inquiry: “If you think you’ve only got a limited period lockdown that you can put in place, the timing of that lockdown matters.

“And watching the Italian curve was the best way of thinking ‘what would happen here’? So the Italy data were important in that sense.

“And then you had to judge, compared to where we were on Italy, were to bring in the lockdown – and indeed, we brought in the lockdown earlier in the epidemiological curve than Italy and others did.

“My point is not about whether or not it’s right to base yourself off Italy. My point is the whole doctrine of waiting, sort of allowing it to come towards you and hold hold. And now we go, that was wrong.

“The moment you need a lockdown, you need to lockdown.”

I started calling for lockdown after speaking with Italian health minister, says Hancock

15:11 , Daniel Keane

Matt Hancock says that he began calling for lockdown in March after speaking with Italy's health minister.

He told the Covid inquiry that he had held talks with health minister Roberto Speranza.

“We thought the Italians had acted early, but he was saying he wished he’d acted earlier this.

“And this argument that you should delay and time it right, he had no truck with.

“And so that had a very significant impact on me. And that was the point at which I started actively agitating for very firm action, for a lockdown.

“I spoke to the prime minister, I emailed him that evening.”

Hancock: UK went into first lockdown three weeks too late

14:53 , Daniel Keane

Matt Hancock has said that the UK went into the first Covid lockdown three weeks too late.

The former health secretary said that he regarded February 28 2020, as the “moment that the centre of Government, led by the Prime Minister, really started to come into action".

He said that ministers should have acted on February 28 after seeing Sage's calculation that half a million people could die without intervention.

“Having obviously thought about this and reflected on this a huge deal over the last few years, the first moment we realistically could have really cracked it was on March 2, three weeks earlier than we did.”

No10 stopped me from talking about Covid on media, Hancock says

14:45 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock said he believed that Downing Street was preventing him from appearing on the media to talk about the spread of the virus.

He also claims he was not allowed to give radio interviews on the subject.

Mr Hancock said he had just been told that, based on figures at the time, there was a “reasonable worst case scenario of just over half a million people dying”.

He claimed that he spoke to Mr Johnson on the phone, saying: "It was quite a moment. I came out and I said ‘prime minister, you need to chair a Cobra and we need to be able to communicate properly, including on all of the programme’s instead of having this political boycott’."

He added: “Over that weekend, I went out and communicated in public about all the things that we might have to do. We might have to close some schools. We might have to shut down whole cities. I don’t rule anything out, I said.”

Hancock: News that China could not contain virus should have been 'seminal moment'

14:18 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock said that Sage's conclusion that China could not contain the spread of the virus on February 13, 2020 should have been a "seminal moment".

He added that he did not recall when he was told about Sage's view.

Hugo Keith KC puts it to Mr Hancock that this should have been a "seminal moment" in the Government's response to the pandemic.

“Would you acknowledge that that was a vital moment?”

Mr Hancock replied: “It certainly should have been.”

Hancock pressed on plans for infection control

14:12 , Daniel Keane

The Covid inquiry has now resumed.

Mr Hancock is asked what the plans for infection control were after Sage concluded in February 2020 that China would not be able to contain Covid.

Hugo Keith KC shows Mr Hancock the minutes from a meeting in February 2020 in which Professor Chris Whitty claims there are plans in place to deal with the spread of the virus.

Mr Hancock says the plans for infection control were based on a 2011 strategy that was in place.

He adds that the Cabinet Office was in charge of infection control across the UK population.

Inquiry breaks for lunch

12:57 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry has taken a short lunch break.

We will be back in an hour with the latest.

DHSC staff 'dragged into meetings' in January 2020 rather than focusing on pandemic response

12:57 , Daniel Keane

In his witness statement, Mr Hancock claims that DHSC officials were being "dragged into meetings" in No10 in late January about meeting manifesto commitments rather than focusing on the pandemic.

Hugo Keith KC says: “In your statement you refer to how in late January, and in spite of your contact with the prime minister, your team was still getting calls from Number 10 and being dragged into meetings about how you were going to deliver manifesto commitments.”

He added: “Did that matter? May we presume from the fact you’ve mentioned it that it mattered?”

Mr Hancock said: “Yes, it would have been far better if that time had all been spent on the gathering storm.”

Senior Government figures 'not interested' in seriousness of Covid in January 2020

12:46 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock said no one in positions of influence in the Government were interested in the seriousness of the situation when Covid-19 emerged in January 2020.

When asked who he was referring to when he said others did not have his sense of urgency on the issue, he said: “Everybody.”

Hugo Keith KC asked whether these were “people who mattered at the senior levels of government” or “people you spoke to in the course of your day-to-day”, Mr Hancock said: “both.”

Cummings created 'culture of fear', says Hancock

12:34 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock claims that Mr Cummings created a "culture of fear".

"This was deeply frustrating and a problem on two levels. The structural problem was an adviser trying to take away authority from the PM. But there was also effectively a cultural problem, a culture of fear inculcated by this individual."

Mr Hancock claims that Mr Cummings "effectively caused" the resignation of former Chancellor Sajid Javid.

He adds: “It would have been better to run the Government with a positive collaborative spirit. When something went wrong, we asked how to fix it. That’s the only way to lead large organisations in a crisis.”

Hancock accuses Cummings of 'power grab' and exerting too much influence on PM

12:28 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC asks whether Mr Cummings had “too great an influence” on the decision-making process of the PM.

Mr Hancock responds: “At times yes. As Cobra was running in February, Mr Cummings said he did not like the Cobra system and decided instead to take all the daily decisions into his office. He invited a subset of the people who needed to be there to those meetings. He didn’t invite ministers, and didn’t feel we were valuable in the decision-making process."

At one of these meetings, Mr Hancock alleges that Mr Cummings said that "decisions don't need to go to the PM".

This "actively circumvented" the Government's emergency response system, he says.

"That is inappropriate in a democracy. I saw it essentially as a power grab, but it definitely got in the way of organising the response for the period it was in operation."

Cummings subjected my staff to 'whole load of abuse', says Hancock

12:22 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock continues his attacks on former chief adviser Dominic Cummings.

He says that it was "deeply unpleasant" for his staff to be "subject to a whole load of abuse" from Mr Cummings.

"It went wider than I thought at the time. My job was to lead the health and care system. I just got on with doing that.”

Toxic culture 'was caused by Dominic Cummings' who was 'malign actor', says Hancock

12:19 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock blames the toxic culture in Government on Dominic Cummings.

Pressed on messages insulting Mr Hancock's character, he says: "In the heat of a crisis, people say things - especially on WhatsApp - that may not be their full opinion."

He then launches a scathing attack on Mr Cummings, who he calls a "malign actor."

"If there are people whose behaviour is unprofessional, the system needs to able to work despite that... That's why I placed reliance on the Cobra system."

Hancock: I am not a liar

12:14 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC asks Mr Hancock about the claims of previous witnesses that he was a liar.

Mr Hancock responds: "I was not. You will note there is no evidence from anyone in the health system that supports that. Those are false allegations. Where there have been specifics attached to those claims, I have gone through them.

"There was a great deal of hard work on our side and a toxic culture that seemed to want to find people to blame."

Hancock pressed on asymptomatic transmission

12:11 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC is pressing Mr Hancock on the details of what he knew about asymptomatic transmission.

The WHO did not confirm that Covid could be spread without symptoms until April 2020.

Mr Hancock says it was his "single biggest regret" to not push harder for more information on this at an early stage of the pandemic.

He claims that, in late January, he became aware of "anecdotal" evidence of asymptomatic transmission but this was not enough to formulate Government policy.

Mr Keith says that the rapid spread of Covid in Italy was evidence of "significant" asymptomatic transmission.

Vallance and Whitty surprised by Hancock's claim he was not told about asymptomatic transmission

11:57 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC shows Mr Hancock an exchange of messages between Sir Patrick Vallance and Professor Sir Chris Whitty from July 2020.

In the messages, Sir Patrick says he does not know why Mr Hancock and Boris Johnson had claimed they were not informed that Covid can transmit asymptomatically.

Mr Hancock says the messages show the scientists were not certain at the time whether the virus could transmit asymptomatically.

Cummings fires back at Hancock over claim he pushed PM to lock down

11:43 , Daniel Keane

Dominic Cummings has waded into the row over whether Matt Hancock told the Prime Minister to lock down on March 13, 2020.

Writing on X, he says that Mr Hancock is "flat out lying that he privately pushed for lock down".

He claims that Mr Hancock was "still pushing Plan A herd immunity" from January 13-15.

Mr Cummings says he had prevented Mr Hancock from coming to a meeting on January 14 as he was "arguing against a change of plan & bulls******* everybody about herd immunity" and being "best prepared in the world".

WHO chief 'terrified of upsetting Beijing', Hancock claims

11:38 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC highlights a section of Mr Hancock's diary, dated January 2020, in which he expresses fears over whether Covid can transmit without symptoms.

Mr Hancock writes that he "pushed Public Health England" for an answer on asymptomatic transmission" and called the head of the World Health Organisation, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to "have another go at persuading him to declare a public health international emergency".

"My sense is that he's terrified of upsetting Beijing", he adds.

He also shows Mr Hancock a readout of a meeting of senior officials and advisers in which Professor Sir Chris Whitty said there was "credible evidence" of asymptomatic transmission in Germany.

Hancock claims to have 'hard evidence' that he pushed PM to lock down

11:28 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock returns to the question of whether he told the PM to lockdown on March 13, 2020.

He says there is an email to the PM sent on that date in which he argues for a "global suppression strategy".

"This is hard evidence that I was pushing the PM to lock down", he says.

Hugo Keith KC asks whether he used the words "immediate" or "lockdown".

Mr Hancock cannot answer the question, saying "he does not have the text in front of me".

Inquiry pauses for break

11:10 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry has paused for a break until 11.20am.

Hancock said pandemic plans were 'prepped and refreshed' in January 2020

11:09 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock is asked about an exchange of WhatsApp messages with Dominic Cummings on January 23, 2020.

In the extract, Mr Cummings asks whether DHSC had investigated preparations for "something terrible like Ebola or a flu pandemic".

Mr Hancock says the Department had "full plans up to and including pandemic levels regularly prepped and refreshed".

He adds: "It is in our top tier risk register."

Hancock asked why diaries failed to mention his push for lockdown

11:04 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock claims that he told Boris Johnson to lock down on March 13, but Hugo Keith KC points out that this was not mentioned in his diary.

He lists various other activities that Mr Hancock undertook that day, but there is no mention of such a meeting with the PM.

Mr Hancock responds: "I didn't have full access to papers when I was writing that. This meeting came to light in researching the papers ahead of this inquiry.

"On the following day, we had formal meetings in the Cabinet room on this subject, where I made my views very clear."

Mr Keith is sceptical of Mr Hancock's claim aand asks him whether "he is sure" that he is telling the truth.

He responds: "I can remember it, and it came to light in research for this inquiry."

Hancock said UK was 'better prepared than other countries' before lockdown

10:58 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock says that the "toxic culture" became a problem later in the pandemic, arguing that scepticism from officials and ministers early on was understandable given the scale of the action needed.

He is shown a WhatsApp message exchanged with Dominic Cummings on March 12 in which he says "we are better prepared than other countries".

Hugo Keith KC asks how Mr Hancock could have said this when he knew about failures in testing, lack of border control and quarantine system for the coming pandemic.

Mr Hancock says that the message was about communications.

He adds that he changed his view on the pandemic on March 13.

Hancock: People accusing me of overconfidence blocked early action to deal with Covid

10:50 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock is asked whether he was too confident about the UK's level of preparation for the pandemic.

He responds: "The same people accusing me of overconfidence were blocking the action that I said we needed... There was huge uncertainty and worry and I felt it was my duty to keep driving forward."

Mr Hancock declines to specify which individuals he is referring to, but says: "We have already seen evidence from some individuals who thought we were overreacting to the virus."

Boris Johnson told Hancock 'you are doing great' in March 2020

10:45 , Daniel Keane

Hugo Keith KC shows Mr Hancock a text message sent to him by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson on March 7, 2020.

In the message, Mr Johnson tells the ex-health minister "you are doing great, keep going" and asks what he can do to help.

Mr Hancock responds by saying that the Government needs to show more leadership on promoting simple public health messages, such as washing hands and asking elderly people to stay at home.

Mr Johnson responds: "Ok let's talk Mon... Am off to rugby."

Covid inquiry (Covid inquiry)
Covid inquiry (Covid inquiry)

Hancock says 'centre of Government' should have led pandemic response

10:37 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock is asked about whether he was honest about the scale of the problems faced by DHSC during the early stage of the pandemic.

He responded: "From the middle of January 2020 we were trying to raise the alarm and wake up Whitehall to the scale of the problem. This couldn't only be addressed by the DHSC. It should have been grasped and led by the centre of Government at an earlier stage."

He said that he "tried to make this happen" but was blocked, adding: "Our concerns were not taken seriously until the very end of February".

Mr Hancock added that he was blocked from organising a Cobra meeting until he pushed colleagues to help him pile pressure on No10.

'Misinformation' about DHSC was given to No10

10:32 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock expands on his claim that a "toxic culture" existed at the heart of Government.

"Anything that went wrong was seen as an intentional failure. Among some people, misinformation about what DHSC was doing was spread, including to the PM. A healthy culture involves scepticism, an unhealthy culture involves false allegations and extremely unpleasant language.

"You didn't have that within the health family. I tried to lead a positive, can-do culture. If there was a problem, my answer was 'how do we fix this'? We rubbed up against a deep unpleasantness at the centre."

Hancock: I tried to wake Whitehall up to threat of pandemic

10:25 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock said that he "tried to wake Whitehall up" to the threat of the pandemic during its early stages.

He added that multiple policies, such as shielding, were led by the DHSC when they should have been "cross Government" programmes.

The decision to close schools was also made by the DHSC, he claimed.

"Whitehall was slow getting going, so we had to get up and do it."

Hancock attacks 'toxic culture' at heart of Government

10:22 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock is asked about a series of extracts from Sir Patrick Vallance's contemporaneous notebook. It cites an email in which DHSC is described as "ungovernable" and a "web of competing parts".

He responds: "The DHSC is of course going to do its best to rise to the challenge of a pandemic. Did everything go right? Of course it didn't. It is natural for the Cabinet Office to be sceptical of the operation of departments in order to hold them to account.

"The toxic culture you've seen at the centre of Government was unhelpful in assuming that whenever there was a challenge, there was fault and blame. Some of these exhibits you have seen demonstrate a lack of generosity or empathy in understanding how to rise to such a big challenge."

UK's pandemic plans were 'inadequate', says Hancock

10:11 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock has arrived at the inquiry and been sworn in.

He is first asked about an extract of his book, The Pandemic Diaries, in which he says that preparations at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for the pandemic were deficient.

He responds: "It is true that the plans that we had were not adequate. In practical terms, the UK didn't have significant testing capability. And the 2011 flu plan was based on the notion that we'd be dealing with the consequences of a pandemic, rather than trying to suppress one."

What allegations is Mr Hancock facing?

09:57 , Daniel Keane

Mr Hancock is expected to mount a defence of his reputation when he appears in front of the Covid inquiry.

Here is a quick rundown of the criticism he has faced so far at the inquiry:

- Former chief adviser Dominic Cummings said that Mr Hancock "lied his way through this and killed people and dozens and dozens of people have seen it"

- In a WhatsApp message, former head of the civil service Sir Mark Sedwill told Boris Johnson to sack Mr Hancock to "save lives and protect the NHS"

- Sir Patrick Vallance said that Mr Hancock "had a habit of saying things which he didn't have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early"

- Helen MacNamara, who was deputy cabinet secretary during the pandemic, said Mr Hancock "regularly" told colleagues in Downing Street things "they later discovered weren't true"

Good morning

09:38 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage of the Covid inquiry.

Matt Hancock will shortly be giving evidence to the inquiry over his role in overseeing the NHS' response to the Covid pandemic.

He was one of the key decision makers in Government, along with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty.

Mr Hancock has come under fire from former Cabinet colleagues and advisers during the inquiry. Many have repeatedly claimed that he said things that were not true during meetings.