FORMER health secretary Matt Hancock was confronted by bereaved family members, including one dressed as the Grim Reaper, as he left the Covid-19 Inquiry.

Hancock told the inquiry he is “profoundly sorry” for every death caused by Covid-19 and understood why the public would find it difficult to accept his apology, insisting it was “honest and heartfelt”.

In a response when questioned about pandemic planning, the MP said he struggled to talk about his feelings as he blamed “doctrine” for believing the UK had things under control.

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However, bereaved family members took the opportunity to confront Hancock over his failures as health secretary during the pandemic.

Charles Persinger, 58, lost his wife and his mother to coronavirus, one month apart.

His mother, Susan Persinger, died in January 2021 aged 74, while his wife Katie Persinger, a care home manager, died in February 2021 aged 51.

As Hancock got into his car, Persinger, dressed as the Grim Reaper, shouted sarcastically after him: “I’m a big fan of your work.”

The National: Members of bereaved families outside the Covid-19 Inquiry Members of bereaved families outside the Covid-19 Inquiry (Image: PA)

Earlier, Hancock said doctrinal failures had “consequences” in areas such as “stockpiles, testing, antivirals, contact tracing, and much more widely” when the pandemic struck in 2020.

The Tory MP added that having pandemic plans focusing on flu was not the central flaw.

“By not preparing to stop a pandemic, and worse by explicitly stating in the planning that it would not be possible to stop a pandemic, a huge amount of other things that need to happen when you’re trying to stop a pandemic didn’t happen, and we had to build them from scratch when the pandemic struck,” he said.

“For instance, large-scale testing did not exist and large-scale contact tracing did not exist because it was assumed that as soon as there was community transmission, it wouldn’t be possible to stop the spread, and therefore, what’s the point in contact tracing?

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“That was completely wrong.”

Speaking about the lack of proper preparedness, he added: “I am profoundly sorry for the impact that it had, I’m profoundly sorry for each death that has occurred.

“And I also understand why, for some, it will be hard to take that apology from me.

“I understand that, I get it.

“But it is honest and heartfelt, and I’m not very good at talking about my emotions and how I feel.

The National:

“But that is honest and true.

“And all I can do is ensure that this inquiry gets to the bottom of it, and that for the future, we learn the right lessons, so that we stop a pandemic in its tracks much, much earlier.

“And that we have the systems in place ready to do that, because I’m worried that they’re being dismantled as we speak.”

Under questioning from Hugo Keith KC, lead counsel to the inquiry, Hancock said the UK’s attitude of planning for the consequences of a disaster was “completely wrong”.

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He told the hearing: “The attitude, the doctrine of the UK was to plan for the consequences of a disaster.

“Can we buy enough body bags?

“Where are we going to bury the dead?

“And that was completely wrong.

“Of course, it’s important to have that in case you fail to stop a pandemic, but central to pandemic planning needs to be – how do you stop the disaster from happening in the first place? How do you suppress the virus?”

The National: Lorelei King, whose husband died during the pandemic protests aS Matt Hancock arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 InquiryLorelei King, whose husband died during the pandemic protests aS Matt Hancock arrives to give evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry (Image: PA)

Hancock listed the issues the UK faced with PPE (personal protective equipment), tests, antivirals and vaccine preparedness.

Asked what civil servants had told him about different parts of the pandemic preparedness plan, he told the inquiry: “I was told that we have plans in these areas.

“So for instance, on stockpiles, I was told that we had a very significant stockpile of PPE. And we did.

“The problem was that it was extremely hard to get it out fast enough when the crisis hit.

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“I was told that we were good at developing tests, and indeed we were.

“We developed a test in the first few days after the genetic code of Covid-19 was published.

“The problem was there was no plan in place to scale testing that we could execute.

“On antivirals, we had a stockpile of antivirals for a flu, but not for a coronavirus…”

The MP said he was told that the UK was one of the best-placed countries in the world at responding to a pandemic – which also “turned out to be wrong”.