British health chiefs did war-game a coronavirus pandemic before the nation was eventually hit by Covid but tried to keep it secret, it was revealed today.
Matt Hancock — who faced a grilling from MPs today about No10’s failures throughout the virus crisis — has only ever confessed to carrying out a mock-up of a flu crisis called Exercise Cygnus.
And giving evidence today, the Health Secretary reiterated that ‘famously all the preparations and the plans that were in place were for a flu pandemic’.
But Public Health England has now admitted it carried out ten other epidemic-fighting scenarios between 2015 and 2018.
One of the preparation tests — called Exercise Alice — focused on MERS, one of only seven coronaviruses known to infect humans. It kills around 35 per cent of people it strikes.
But PHE refused to reveal any details about how the secret operation went, claiming revealing any information about the exercise would damage national security.
The only details known are that it was carried out in February 2016 and involved PHE and Department of Health officials.
Dr David Matthews, a Bristol University virologist, told The Guardian the findings of the report may have been ‘completely relevant’ to No10’s Covid response.
Dr Moosa Qureshi, an NHS consultant who uncovered the previously unpublished exercises, accused Mr Hancock of never confessing that the UK had already carried out a coronavirus-fighting exercise.
But the Department of Health insists that it has always been clear that it undertakes exercises regularly.
Mr Hancock today admitted the first lockdown was delayed despite initial warnings over 820,000 deaths because ministers feared Brits would not tolerate draconian restrictions for long.
In a dramatic evidence session with MPs, the Health Secretary said that as early as January he was presented with a ‘reasonable worst case scenario’ of the huge potential toll, based on Spanish Flu.
But imposing the draconian first national restrictions did not happen until March 23, with Mr Hancock pointing to expert advice that the public would only ‘put up with it’ for a limited time and concerns about the ‘immediate costs’.
Read more: Britain DID simulate a coronavirus pandemic before Covid struck and didn’t just mock-up a flu outbreak… but health chiefs WON’T say how secret war-game went because it would damage national security