Government “did not give sufficient thought” into stopping the pandemic in its tracks, Sir Chris Whitty has told the official Covid-19 inquiry.
The chief medical officer for England has said options to stop a disease outbreak on the scale of coronavirus were not considered fully enough by ministers ahead of the crisis.
Giving evidence today, Sir Chris was asked about former health secretary Matt Hancock’s comments about worst case scenarios.
He said: “I certainly agree that we did not give sufficient thought to what we could do to stop, in its tracks, a pandemic on the scale of Covid, or indeed any other pathogen that could realistically go there.
“I do think, on the other hand, it is sensible to have a plan for ‘if everything fails, what are we going to do?’
“We do still need to be able to say, ‘let’s go to the top of the range – actually, we could end up with 750,000 people dying, where are we going to bury bodies?’
“These are important, they may seem morbid, but they are practically important.”
Whitty also said the UK lacked the ability to quickly “scale up” infrastructure such as testing.
Questioned by the inquiry, led by Baroness Heather Hallett, he said pandemic “hazards and threats” would be “completely different every time”.
Focus, he said, should be on “multiple capabilities that can be flexed to almost any emergency…” rather than the existing focus on having a plan for one particular scenario.
Lockdown, Whitty added, was a “very big, new idea” and a “very radical thing to do”.
And he told the inquiry it would be very difficult for independent scientists to initiate full lockdown planning without instruction from senior politicians.
It comes as Hancock, ex-Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon and UK Health Security Agency boss Dame Jenny Harries were confirmed to be giving evidence next week.