UK’s Johnson failed ‘disastrously’ in Covid-19 crisis, ex-chief adviser says

  • UK’s Johnson failed ‘disastrously’ in Covid-19 crisis, ex-chief adviser says

UK’s Johnson failed ‘disastrously’ in Covid-19 crisis, ex-chief adviser says

Asked by committee chairman, and former health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, why the testing system was not set up until the end of May, Mr Cummings said essentially "the whole core of government fundamentally fell apart" when the Prime Minister got ill with coronavirus.

Johnson subsequently caught COVID-19 early in the pandemic, and was moved to intensive care in hospital, where he received litres of oxygen.

He said that there had been a plan to pursue something similar to herd community, and that Johnson was more concerned about the economy over health for the first three months of 2020.

Dominic Cummings has accused Matt Hancock of "criminal, disgraceful behaviour" by interfering with the NHS test and trace system, adding that he urged Boris Johnson to fire him over it.

Cummings, who left the government late a year ago, has said the British health ministry was a "smoking ruin", that Western governments failed during the crisis, and that the secretive British state was woefully unprepared for the pandemic.

Speaking to the Science and Technology Committee and Health and Social Care Committee, Cummings made a number of dramatic statements, including stating that Matt Hancock should have been fired for lying, and that Boris Johnson initially believed that Covid-19 was a "scare story".

"When the public needed us most, the government failed", Cummings told lawmakers, adding that it was "crackers" that someone such as Johnson got to be prime minister.

In a colourful evidence session, that gave a rare insight into government workings, Cummings also said that data scientist Ben Warner was like Jeff Goldblum from the film Independence Day, and that ministers had pointed fingers at each other to say who was responsible, like that "Spiderman meme with all the spidermans pointing at each other".

However, Downing Street has declined to deny that the Prime Minister considered sacking Matt Hancock in April a year ago but insisted Boris Johnson has confidence in the Health Secretary now.

With nearly 128,000 deaths, the United Kingdom has the world's fifth highest official COVID-19 toll, far higher than the government's initial worst-case estimates of only 20,000.

Though Cummings's attacks have so far failed to dent the prime minister's popularity, his testimony is likely to form the broad lines of scrutiny of a public inquiry next year into the Covid-19 response.

"We have worked flat out to minimise loss of life", said Johnson.

During the questioning, Cummings was asked about the government's preparations for a pandemic in general and whether it was the intention of ministers to allow the virus to spread until there was so-called herd immunity.

Cummings claimed that he, then Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill, and other senior government officials advised the Prime Minister to sack Hancock.

While Cummings praised the intelligence and hard work of low and middle-ranking people responding to coronavirus, he was extremely scathing of the leadership - of which he was part - and continued: "M$3 any senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards the country has a right to expect".

He related meetings in early 2020 when it started to dawn on some officials that Johnson's resistance to a lockdown was a deadly mistake.

"If we'd had the right preparations + competent people in charge, we would probably have avoided lockdown1, *definitely* no need for lockdowns 2&3", he said.

He quoted Helen MacNamara, deputy cabinet secretary, as saying "I've come through here to the prime minister's office to tell you, quote, I think we are absolutely fucked". Cummings told the panel: "almost the first meeting I had in the cabinet room was about the disaster over PPE and how we were actually completely short and hospitals all over the country were running out".

"That was one of the reasons why the cabinet secretary and I agreed that we had to essentially take testing away from Hancock and put it in a separate agency".