Hancock on the offensive with vaccine boasts after Cummings mauling

UK began work on Covid vaccine BEFORE Britain’s first case was confirmed, Matt Hancock will reveal in speech today as he tries to recover from care home row and Dominic Cummings’ savage claim that he should have been fired for lying

  • Hancock will use a speech to praise swift work in creating new wonder drugs
  • Speaking in Oxford he will credit move with saving more than a million lives
  • He was subject of political hit-job by PM’s former aide Dominic Cummings 
  • Ex-aide said he repeatedly lied and should have been fired at height of pandemic

Britain started work on a Covid vaccine before the first case of the killer virus was confirmed in the UK, Matt Hancock will boast today as he fights for his political life.

The Health Secretary will use a speech in Oxford this afternoon to praise the swift work in creating new wonder drugs, claiming it helped save more than a million lives.

It will be seen as the start of a fight- back after a brutal week in which he was blamed for allowing Covid to spread to care homes from NHS hospitals.

Mr Hancock was the subject of a brutal political hit-job by former No10 aide Dominic Cummings when the former No10 aide appeared in front of MPs last week.

He accused the senior Cabinet minister of repeatedly lying and deserving to be sacked at the height of the pandemic for a catalogue of blunders.

In a speech later, by when it is expected three-quarters of adults in the UK will have received their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the Health Secretary will praise the central role of the NHS in the vaccine success, and say the Government invested ‘at risk’ in multiple bets.

Speaking at the Jenner Institute in Oxford ahead of the UK-hosted G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting later this week, Mr Hancock is expected to say: ‘Even before the first Covid-19 case arrived in the UK we’d started the work on how to develop, procure and roll out the vaccines that would ultimately make us safe.

‘I was told a vaccine had never been developed against any human coronavirus. We dared to believe … and we started early.

The Health Secretary will use a speech in Oxford this afternoon to praise the swift work in creating new wonder drugs, claiming it helped save more than a million lives.

Mr Hancock was the subject of a brutal political hit-job by former No10 aide Dominic Cummings when the former No10 aide appeared in front of MPs last week.

‘We put out a call for research in February. By March, we were supporting six different projects, including the Oxford vaccine, alongside the vital work on treatments – including the Recovery trial, which led to the discovery of dexamethasone, the first proven treatment to reduce coronavirus mortality. 

‘These two projects, together, have already saved over a million lives.’

Last week Mr Cummings accused Mr Hancock of ‘criminal, disgraceful behaviour’ during the early days of the Covid pandemic as he launched an astonishing broadside at the Health Secretary.

During a no-holds-barred attack on the senior Cabinet Minister he accused him of being a serial liar whose behaviour directly hindered the Government’s ability to tackle the pandemic last year.

In a rollercoaster appearance in front of MPs a week ago Mr Cummings outlined a series of failings by Mr Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care and claimed that the Secretary of State should have been fired ‘for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody’.

The former No10 chief adviser also alleged that the then Cabinet Secretary Lord Mark Sedwill told the Prime Minister he had lost confidence in Mr Hancock’s honesty, and urged his sacking.  

Mr Cummings told a joint committee of MPs probing the Covid crisis: ‘One thing I can say completely honestly is that I said repeatedly from February/March that if we don’t fire the Secretary of State and get testing into somebody else’s hands, we’re going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe.’

In perhaps his strongest criticism, Mr Cummings told MPs that Government talk of putting a shield around care homes was ‘complete nonsense’.

‘We were told categorically in March (by Mr Hancock) that people would be tested before they went back to homes, we only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened,’ he told the Committee.

‘Now while the Government rhetoric was we have put a shield around care homes and blah blah blah, it was complete nonsense. Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.’

Mr Hancock told the Commons the following day that the claims were ‘not true’ and he had been ‘straight with people’. 

‘We worked as hard as we could to protect people who live in care homes, and of course those who live in care homes are some of the most vulnerable to this disease because by its nature it attacks and has more of an impact on older people,’ he said.

‘Now when it comes to the testing of people as they left hospital and went into care homes, we committed to building the testing capacity to allow that to happen.

‘Of course it then takes time to build testing capacity.

‘In fact, one of the critical things we did was set the 100,000 target back then to make sure we built that testing capacity and it was very effective in doing so.

‘And then we were able to introduce the policy of testing everybody before going into care homes, but we could only do that once we had the testing capacity which I had to build, because we didn’t have it in this country from the start.

‘We started with a capacity of less than 2,000 in March last year and got to 100,000 tests a day.

‘And we set all of this out at the time in public documents. It’s all a matter of public record.’

Mr Hancock’s speech today, which will be streamed on Twitter, comes ahead of the 2021 G7 Health Ministers’ Meeting, which will be held in person at Oxford University on Thursday and Friday.

It comes after no deaths within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 were reported on Tuesday, according to the Government. It is the first time this has happened since July 30, 2020.

Mr Hancock is expected to say: ‘The biggest risk would have been the failure to find a vaccine at all. So we explicitly embraced risk early on. So we backed lots of horses and invested at risk.

‘And instead of sitting back and waiting to see which vaccines came off, we were tenacious in helping them to get over the line, drawing on the abundant industry experience in our team.’

And he is expected to outline how the NHS has ‘deserved every plaudit that has come its way’, as well as the country’s ‘scientific strength’.

‘Over centuries, we have built one of the greatest scientific capabilities in the world, and we must always support it,’ he will add.

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