On Wednesday, former aide to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings, appeared before the Parliament’s health and social care and the science and technology select committees for a questioning session that has been nervously anticipated by Downing Street.
Speaking to the MPs, the PM’s former closest confidant described what went wrong in the first and second lockdowns in Britain.
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisors like me, fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” Cummings said.
Cummings told the MPs that when the British public “needed us most, the government failed”. He added that Western countries, including the UK, failed to see the COVID-19 crisis brewing.
Our session has started. We’re hearing from Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to the Prime Minister.
— Science and Technology Committee (@CommonsSTC) May 26, 2021
The World Health Organization declared the Covid-19 outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and a pandemic on 11 March 2020.
However, Cummings told MPs that he didn’t devote much time to the Covid issue in January. He spent less than half of his time on it before 12 February and by the last ten days of the month, the pandemic took over 90% of his time.
He added that Number 10 “was not operating on a war footing” in February and “lots of people were skiing”. It wasn’t until the last week of February that there was any sense of urgency in Westminster, Cummings said.
Questioned by the Chair of Science and Technology Select Committee, Greg Clark MP, Cummings said that he could share with the lawmakers the texts and Whatsapp messages to the PM about Covid during early 2020.
When speaking about his attendance at the Cobra meetings, which handle matters of national emergency, Cummings said he didn’t want to talk during them “because there were too many leaks.”
New Swine Flu
Cummings told the sessions that in the beginning of the pandemic, PM Johnson considered COVID-19 to be a ‘scare story’ in February 2020.
“The basic thought was that in February the prime minister regarded this as just a scare story… he described it as the new swine flu,” Cummings told lawmakers.
According to Cummings, the PM was so sceptical about the threat from Covid in early 2020 that he considered getting injected with coronavirus live on TV to prove it wasn’t dangerous.
“The view of various officials inside Number 10 was, if we have Prime Minister chairing COBR meetings and he just tells everyone this is swine flu, don’t worry about it and I’m going to get (Chief Medical Officer) Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus … that would not help,” Cummings told lawmakers.
The government’s initial analysis of the pandemic led to talks about herd immunity, which was assumed by politicians to be an “complete inevitability.”
Cummings said that the Whitehall assumed at the time that the British public would not accept strict restrictions like those seen in Wuhan, Singapore and Taiwan.
The choice, in the government’s March assessment, was to allow the virus to spread to achieve herd immunity by September or “flatten” the virus for an even worse peak in the winter.
“No one wants this to happen, but the point was herd immunity was regarded as an unavoidable fact, the only question we had was one of timing,” he said.
Cummings told the Committees that Johnson’s ministers pointed to the TV screen showing images of Italy in early 2020 to show the PM that a lockdown was needed.