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UK health minister says ex-PM aide's COVID-19 lies claim are untrue

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By Reuters

By Michael Holden and William James

LONDON -British health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday “unsubstantiated allegations” from the prime minister’s former chief aide that he had lied to colleagues and the public about the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic were untrue.

Dominic Cummings, who was Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s right hand man until late last year, delivered a withering attack on his former boss and Hancock during seven hours of testimony before a parliamentary committee on Wednesday, saying their ineptitude led to tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths.

Johnson, Cummings said, was unfit for his role, while his greatest criticism was reserved for Hancock who he said had repeatedly lied to such an extent that the country’s top civil servant lost confidence in his honesty.

“These allegations that were put yesterday … are serious allegations and I welcome the opportunity … to put formally on the record that these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true, and that I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout,” Hancock told parliament.

With almost 128,000 deaths, the United Kingdom has the world’s fifth highest official COVID-19 toll, far higher than the government’s initial worst-case estimates of 20,000.

One of the most damning allegations from Cummings was that Hancock’s statement that the government had thrown a “protective ring around” care homes at the start of the pandemic was nonsense, and that instead people had been sent back from hospital who had contracted the coronavirus.

The opposition Labour Party says if he had lied, he should lose his job.

“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout,” Hancock said. “Every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January, I’ve got up each morning and asked, ‘what must I do to protect life’. That is the job of a health secretary in a pandemic.”

Lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party rallied around Hancock, while Jeremy Hunt, a co-chairman of the committee at which Cummings had appeared, said the allegations from the former aide should be treated as unproven until evidence was provided to back them up.

Hancock is also due to face questioning from media at a news conference later.

Johnson told parliament on Wednesday nobody could credibly accuse him or his government of complacency, and that the government had always sought to minimise loss of life.

“I think it is (wrong),” housing minister Robert Jenrick told BBC radio when asked about the allegation from Cummings that tens of thousands of people had died unnecessarily.

“Nobody could doubt for one moment that the prime minister was doing anything other than acting with the best of motives with the information and the advice that was available to him.”