London (AFP)

British Minister of Health Matt Hancock, violently implicated by a former adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, defended himself in front of deputies on Thursday, claiming to have acted with honesty throughout his management of the coronavirus pandemic.

Dominic Cummings, former influential Boris Johnson adviser, ruled him incompetent last month before a parliamentary committee, saying he should have been "fired" and accusing him of lying "meeting after meeting", but also " publicly".

The same committee asked the minister on Thursday whether he had lied to the prime minister.

"No" replied Matt Hancock, claiming to have adopted an "approach of integrity and honesty".

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During his shattering hearing, Dominic Cummings also judged Boris Johnson "unfit", and claimed that he had initially underestimated the extent of the pandemic which has left nearly 128,000 dead in the United Kingdom, the most bereaved country in the world. 'Europe.

After a long winter confinement, the government has gradually lifted the restrictions linked to the pandemic but the lifting of the latest measures, scheduled for June 21, is threatened by the recent increase in contamination, which exceeds 6,000 or even 7,000 new cases per day.

The Minister of Health revealed on Thursday that the Delta variant, initially identified in India, accounts for 91% of new cases.

- Lack of screening -

Matt Hancock said it was "revealing" that Dominic Cummings had not provided any written evidence to the parliamentary committee to support his accusations.

He said he had "no idea" why the ex-adviser was targeting him, but knew that the ex-adviser had called for his departure from the government after leaks to the press.

Dominic Cummings had notably accused the Minister of Health of having promised that residents of retirement homes would be screened for Covid-19 before returning to their establishments after hospitalization.

This was not done systematically, helping to spread the virus in these establishments.

"We set a policy whereby people would be tested when the tests were available, and then I started building the screening capacity to be able to respond," said Hancock.

At the time, scientists recommended against testing asymptomatic people for fear of producing false negatives, he added.

The minister acknowledged that at the start of the pandemic, which hit the UK in March 2020, there was insufficient screening capacity.

He also admitted that the UK had experienced "enormous difficulties" in sourcing masks and protective gear for caregivers but said there had never been a "national shortage" and had no "no evidence that a shortage (...) has led to the death of anyone from the Covid".

At the start of the pandemic, Matt Hancock was warned that in a worst-case scenario, the virus could kill 820,000 people.

Responding to criticism of the government, accused of having delayed imposing the first lockdown, at the end of March 2020, the minister said he had followed the recommendations of scientists who ensured that "people could bear to be confined only for a limited period" .

"It turned out to be wrong," he admitted.

© 2021 AFP