Jeremy Hunt: Britain's response to Covid was mix of 'disaster and genius'

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He adds that lockdowns might have been avoided in the first year of the pandemic if we had followed the swift action of other nations.

But he praises work on vaccines and treatments and likens the Covid response to “a football match with two very different halves”.

Mr Hunt commented after the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, which he chairs, published a joint report with the Science and Technology Committee on the handling of the pandemic.

He tweeted: “We conclude that our national response was a curate’s egg of disastrous mistakes and extraordinary genius. The first lockdown was too late and based on flawed scientific advice, which should have been challenged earlier.

Vaccine “Had we been humble enough to learn from the approach being taken in places like Taiwan and South Korea, with their experience of Sars and Mers, we could perhaps have avoided lockdowns altogether in the first year.”

Mr Hunt said the slow start to testing meant it was “doomed to fail”.

Following a year-long inquiry, the report’s findings were unanimously agreed by 22 cross-party MPs. They said delaying the first lockdown was a “serious error” and failure to protect care homes led to “many thousands” of avoidable deaths.

But Mr Hunt added: “Set against that were the biggest achievements of the British state in our lifetimes.

“To pre-buy 400 million doses of vaccine before they had been approved was a spectacularly successful gamble that gave us the best vaccine programme in Europe.”

He said a key lesson was to “avoid groupthink about the kind of virus we may face”.

He said: “Too much of our national response, including when I was health secretary, was geared around assumption that the most likely pandemic we would face would be flu.”

But Minister for the Cabinet Office Stephen Barclay insisted leaders “did take decisions to move quickly”.

He refused to apologise to families who had lost loved ones, telling Sky News: “It was an unprecedented pandemic, we were learning about it as we went through and, with hindsight, there are things we know about it now that we didn’t know at the time.”

Mr Barclay said there were lessons to be learnt and “that’s why we’ve committed to an inquiry”.

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