Michael Gove: The country was not well prepared to deal with pandemic

The Tory Cabinet minister said: “We were not well prepared as we should have been ideally. I think that is true.

“The virus was novel and indeed – I think this probably goes beyond the remit of the inquiry this – a significant body of judgment that believes that the virus itself was man-made and that presents sort of challenges.”

Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel, said it was not in the inquiry’s terms of reference to look at the “somewhat divisive issue” of Covid’s origins,.

The Levelling Up Secretary apologised to victims and to bereaved families for Government “errors”, such as locking down too late.

But Mr Gove, who was the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when the pandemic began in 2020, defended then-PM Boris Johnson’s “gladiatorial” decision-making against repeated claims of dysfunctionality.

Mr Gove said he took responsibility, adding: “If I may…apologise to the victims who endured such pain, the families who endured so much loss as a result of the mistakes that were made.

“As a minister responsible for the Cabinet Office, and [I] was also close to many of the decisions that were made, I must take my share of responsibility.”

He claimed “every decision was difficult and every course was bad” at the time. Mr Gove went on: “We were too slow to lock down initially in March [2020]. We should have taken stricter measures before we eventually decided to do so in late October.”

Mr Gove added there was insufficient focus on the impact on children and there were errors in obtaining personal protective equipment.

The hearing was shown a message he sent to Mr Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings on March 4 2020.

It read: “We’re f****** up as a government and missing golden opportunities. The whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we will regret it for a long time.” Explaining, Mr Gove said he was concerned over the Cabinet Office and its ability to handle Covid.

Mr Johnson – due to appear at the London hearing next week – has been accused of failing to stick to pandemic decisions already made.

Mr Gove said that he had a “high opinion” of former Health Secretary Matt Hancock during the crisis; Lord Sedwill, the then-most senior civil servant, had wanted him fired. Mr Gove said “too much was asked” of the Department of Health initially.

The inquiry continues.

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