DOWNING St distanced itself from Cabinet minister Therese Coffey after she suggested that any mistakes the UK Government made early on in the pandemic were due to “wrong” advice from its scientific advisers.

Boris Johnson’s spokesman praised the members of the Government’s expert SAGE group, saying the Prime Minister was “hugely grateful for the hard work and expertise of the UK's world-leading scientists; we've been guided by their advice throughout and we continue to do so”.

He then insisted: “Scientists advise, ministers take decisions and that's how Government works.”

Earlier, Ms Coffey raised eyebrows when she was asked if with "hindsight" the Government had made mistakes in its approach to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Work and Pensions Secretary told Sky News: “You can only make judgements and decisions based on the information and the advice you have at the time.

"If the science was wrong, if the advice at the time was wrong, I am not surprised if people think we made the wrong decision."

Meanwhile, a top Government advisers said the transparency of scientific advice to ministers during the coronavirus outbreak would be a "big issue" in a future inquiry into how the crisis was handled.

At the daily Downing St press briefing, Professor Dame Angela McLean, the Deputy Chief Scientific Adviser, said she had not spent much time worrying about how secretive or not scientific advice was.

Speaking alongside her George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, insisted the Government had been "candid" in sharing information with the public.

Their comments came after the Commons Science and Technology Committee said further transparency was needed over the provision of scientific advice, providing clear distinction between scientific advice and policy decisions.

Dame Angela said advisers had been "really, really focused" on giving high quality advice "completely rooted in evidence" not on how publicly available it was.

She added: "I have to admit I haven't spent much time worrying about how secretive and not secretive it is. I can see that is going to be big issue when we have a big look back, I would be more inclined to address that then."

Mr Eustice said he did not accept that it was secretive and added: "We have been very candid in sharing with people at every step of the way exactly what we are doing and why we are doing it an what the evidence shows."

In a scathing summary, the committee identified several flaws in the Government's Covid-19 response.

In particular, it highlighted the country's "inadequate" testing capacity and cited how the decision to ditch community testing, in contrast to other countries which made it a tenet of their coronavirus strategies, was "one of the most consequential made" during the crisis.

In a letter to the Prime Minister assessing evidence to the committee during the pandemic, committee chairman Greg Clark said Public Health England had repeatedly failed to answer questions over the "pivotal" decision to scrap mass testing in March before lockdown measures were introduced.

Testing and tracking in the community was suspended on March 12, concentrating largely on hospitals instead.

The committee, in a 19-page letter to Mr Johnson, also described how testing capacity had been "inadequate for most of the pandemic so far".

Matt Hancock, the English Health Secretary, announced on April 2 that he wanted to reach 100,000 daily coronavirus tests by the end of the month.

The figure was reached for the first time on April 30 but ministers were met with accusations the figures were inflated because it included the number of tests which had been sent out but not completed.