The Health Secretary Matt Hancock is under scrutiny over his handling of the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is what we know about the events of March and April 2020.
Action plan published
The government publishes its official coronavirus action plan to contain, delay, research and mitigate the virus. The public are urged to wash their hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or the length of time it takes to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice. Mr Hancock says: “Protecting the most vulnerable is our absolute priority.”
PM announces lockdown
Boris Johnson appears on television and announces strict new curbs on life in the UK.
People are only allowed to leave their homes to exercise once a day. Shops selling non-essential goods are told to shut and gatherings in public of more than two people who do not live together are prohibited.
PPE concerns growing
Care homes warn that frontline staff do not have sufficient supplies of masks, aprons, gowns and goggles – personal protective equipment or PPE. Doctors issue similar warnings. In later evidence to MPs, Mr Hancock says there was “never a national shortage of PPE”, but there were “huge challenges” in keeping up with demand.
Care homes warning
In an email leaked to the Sunday Times, social care leaders warn Mr Hancock that care homes are being “pressured” to allow residents to return from hospital with symptoms of Covid-19 and without being tested for the virus. Managers say they are “terrified” that the lack of testing is causing outbreaks in homes.
Government guidance issued
Guidance says that people who were Covid-19 positive can be discharged into care homes: “Negative tests are not required prior to transfers/admissions into the care home.” It recommends that they are isolated in their own room.
Mr Hancock talks to the PM
Mr Hancock addresses the issue of testing with the prime minister. According to testimony given later by the prime minister’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings, Mr Hancock is asked: “What on earth has happened with all these people in care homes?” According to Mr Cummings: “Hancock told us in the cabinet room that people were going to be tested before they went back to care homes.” In later evidence before MPs, Mr Hancock says: “We set out a policy that people would be tested when tests were available.” He insists he followed clinical advice throughout.
The guidance is changed. It now says that all those being discharged into care homes should be tested. The National Audit Office says later that it is not known how many patients with Covid-19 had been discharged to care homes, but that about 25,000 people were discharged to care between 17 March and 15 April.