he former chief medical officer (CMO) for England was left close to tears as he gave evidence at the official UK Covid-19 Inquiry.
Professor Dame Sally Davies also said “sorry” to the relatives who lost loved ones during the Covid outbreak.
During her questioning, she said: “Maybe this is the moment to say how sorry I am to the relatives who lost their families.
“It wasn’t just the deaths, it was the way they died. It was horrible.”
She told lead counsel Hugo Keith KC: “I heard a lot about it from my daughter on the front line as a young doctor in Scotland.
“It was harrowing and it remains horrible.”
Dame Sally, who was England’s CMO between 2010 and 2019, also spoke about Exercise Cygnus – a cross-government exercise to test the UK’s response to a serious influenza pandemic that took place over three days in October 2016 and involved more than 950 people.
She explained the conclusion from the exercise was the UK’s plans and response were not sufficient to cope with severe demands of a pandemic.
However, she also said she believed the UK’s plans for a flu pandemic could “pivot effectively” to combat other pathogens.
Dame Sally told the inquiry: “I believe that if we prepared well for flu, we should be able to pivot pretty effectively. And we can’t prepare for everything. Meanwhile, we did a lot of learning as we went.”
Asked whether there was a “bias” towards preparing for a flu pandemic, she said there was a “groupthink” about influenza, adding: “It wasn’t just us, this was the whole global north, the western world thought that flu was the thing to focus on.”
She said that there had been four flu pandemics in the past century, adding: “We will have more, it’s only a question of when.”
She continued: “So for me the issue is not should we not prepare for flu, we must prepare for flu.
“The question is what else we do over and above that?”
“Clearly we could have done more thinking.”
Mr Keith further asked whether not foreseeing the possibility of a lockdown when planning for a pandemic was “one of the more notable failures in this strategic planning”.
Dame Sally Davies apologised, saying: “I’m sorry, we didn’t plan for that.
“I think I would prefer to have planned to not get us to that stage but we didn’t recognise that it could.”
It comes after former prime minister David Cameron told the inquiry on Monday that it was a “mistake” for his Government to focus too heavily on preparing for a flu pandemic.
Dame Sally also told the inquiry she instigated Alice, an exercise modelling the impact of the Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), which is caused by a coronavirus outbreak, four years before the coronavirus pandemic.
When asked whether the recommendations from the exercise were put into place, she responded: “I would have expected them to be, but it appears they weren’t.”
Earlier, on Tuesday Dame Sally had told the inquiry the impact of the pandemic on the UK was not down to health inequality but rather the “lack of resilience in the public’s health”.
She explained: “One reason we had a bad outcome from Covid, and I presume would get from flu, is because of what you have been told are health inequalities.
“I would talk about the lack of resilience in the public’s health; 25% of children in year six are obese; 60% of adults are obese or overweight; we have high levels of diabetes.
“How does Government play a role in improving the health of people? Because there is a Libertarian view that it’s all down to each of us as individuals and how strong we are, but of course it isn’t about that.
“It’s about the structure of our society and how to make the healthy choice the easy choice, whether it’s activity or what we eat.”