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Dominic Cummings gave a blow-by-blow account of how the government realised too late that coronavirus would overwhelm the UK in spring 2020, giving his version of what decisions were taken when, and by whom.
1-15 January 2020
Cummings raises the Covid-19 threat with the prime minister “because it was on the news”.
Sage, comprising the government’s scientific advisers, convenes its first Covid meeting but there was “considerable uncertainty around the data”.
The Cobra emergency response committee meets. Neither Cummings nor Boris Johnson attend.
Cummings tells No 10 officials to “look at pandemic planning” and asks the health secretary, Matt Hancock, if preparations are up to date. He is told “full plans” for a pandemic are “regularly refreshed”.
Johnson holds a cabinet reshuffle. Cummings says No 10 is distracted with this and the “HS2 nightmare” while “lots of key people were literally skiing”.
“Very smart people” from outside government say a more “aggressive” strategy to tackle Covid is necessary, Cummings says. From February, he is telling Johnson that unless he sacks Hancock, “we are going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe”.
At this point, there is only a 20% chance of the government-forecast realistic worst-case scenario happening, Cummings says.
Sage meets and recommends shielding elderly and vulnerable people. Cummings does not advise Johnson the scientists are wrong, he says.
Sage and government figures “started to talk publicly about herd immunity” while Hancock, Sir Patrick Vallance and Prof Chris Whitty brief journalists “this is what the official plan is”, says Cummings.
Cummings messages Johnson, Vallance and others pushing for social distancing and a requirement for symptomatic people to stay at home.
Cummings texts Johnson at 7.48am saying: “We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly shit … We must announce today.”
But the day is “completely derailed” when national security advisers say the then US president, Donald Trump, wants Britain to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East, while Johnson’s fiancee Carrie Symonds is angry about a story concerning her dog, Dilyn, and “demanding that the press office deal with that”.
Cummings says Covid meetings result in a plan for household quarantine but that the then cabinet secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill, is still pressing for herd immunity and suggesting Johnson go on TV to advocate chickenpox-style parties for Covid.
Vallance is said to be “extremely concerned” by the current strategy. Scientists say the reasonable worst-case scenario is no longer a 20% likelihood but “our central planning assumption”, Cummings says.
In the evening, Cummings and advisers are devising a “plan B” when Helen MacNamara, the deputy cabinet secretary, walks into the office and says she has spoken to Mark Sweeney, the official in charge of coordinating with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), who said: “I’ve been told for years that there is a whole plan for this; there is no plan, we’re in huge trouble.” MacNamara allegedly tells Cummings: “I think we’re absolutely fucked, I think this country’s heading for a disaster, I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.”
Cummings tells Johnson during a meeting: “We are going to have to lock down … as soon as we possibly can” and advises that pubs and restaurants should shut – with “no lockdown plan”, so Downing Street officials “hack [one] together”.
At a Downing Street press conference, Johnson tells the public to avoid pubs, restaurants and theatres, only make essential journeys and ensure households isolate if one person displays Covid symptoms. If this had not happened, Cummings says he considered resigning and holding a press conference warning “the government’s going to kill hundreds of thousands if people”.
Rumours circulate of a London-wide lockdown and Cummings calls the BBC’s political editor, Laura Kuenssberg, to deny it.
Lockdown begins after Johnson addresses the nation. The “almost universal view” was there would not be mass compliance, Cummings says.
Vallance texts Cummings to moot the idea of a vaccine taskforce, crucially run outside DHSC, the former aide says.
Johnson tests positive for Covid, along with Hancock. DHSC is in disarray, turning down ventilators as the price is too high, Cummings says. Personal protective equipment ordered from abroad will not arrive for months, he is told.
Johnson is admitted to hospital, prompting talks of the need to find a possible replacement prime minister. The foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, is not given “nearly enough credit” for stepping in “with the prime minister on his deathbed”, Cummings says.
Returning to work after his own Covid diagnosis, and trips to Durham and Barnard Castle, Cummings claims Hancock lied about PPE shortages, saying the chancellor and NHS chief executive had “blocked approvals” – but when Sedwill investigated, he found this to be “completely untrue”. Johnson “came close” to sacking Hancock but “fundamentally wouldn’t do it”, Cummings claims.
Source: The Guardian
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