Matt Hancock foresaw the failure of the October 2020 COVID tier system, admitting in a witness statement that he was in despair over implementing a policy he knew wouldn’t work.

M att Hancock knew the tier system of COVID restrictions implemented in October 2020 would not work, the UK COVID inquiry heard today.

An extract of the disgraced former health secretary’s witness statement was read out at the inquiry by the mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham.

Hancock, who is set to appear at the inquiry on Thursday, wrote he “was in despair that we had announced a policy that we knew would not work”.

The ‘three-tier system’ came into force in England from 14 October 2020. Under the new approach, every area of England was classified as being on one of three levels: medium (Tier 1), high (Tier 2) or very high alert (Tier 3).

The system stayed in place until 5 November 2020, when a month-long national lockdown was brought in.

Burnham, who gave evidence to the inquiry on Monday afternoon, said putting Greater Manchester into Tier 3 showed the region was being “punished” by the government for demanding proper financial support for people told to self-isolate.

He was asked to respond to the minutes of a government meeting which discussed the ongoing debate about the tier system, which stated he was behaving “appallingly”.

Burnham responded to this evidence saying:

“It wasn’t me that was behaving appallingly. It was the people in that room that were behaving appallingly. They were about to impose a policy on Greater Manchester that they knew didn't work… They sat in that room and they imposed a policy they had been advised by SAGE and others would not work.
“I see this conversation in this COVID-O committee where they’re then starting to talk about a punishment for Greater Manchester. That Lancashire should have a lighter set of measures imposed than Greater Manchester seeing as they showed willingness to cooperate.”

Burnham said he was pushing back on any increase of restrictions that was not backed up by a financial package that could help support workers to stay at home.

He said:

“Because we took that stand, they decided to make an example of us. It’s unbelieve for me now to look at evidence saying they knew it didn’t work. They knew Tier 3 didn’t work. They knew that but they were still going to impose it on us without enough financial support.”

The mayor also claimed that when the tiers were being discussed in October 2020 Boris Johnson wasn’t aware Greater Manchester had already faced extra restrictions since July.

He told the inquiry about a call he had with Johnson on October 20, saying:

“[Johnson] was saying: ‘We just need you to agree to these Tier 3 restrictions and the package of support’. I said: ‘We can’t, it’s not enough’.
“I said: ‘We’ve been under restrictions for a long time’. He said: ‘What do you mean?’.
“I said: ‘We’ve been under restrictions since July. You do know about that don’t you?’
“To me it didn't seem that he did know about that. He wasn't aware that we were struggling all that time.”

The inquiry continues.

PMP Magazine


Text: This piece was first published in openDemocracy and re-published in PMP Magazine on 29 November 2023 under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International licence. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Flickr/Number 10. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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