He said the government's response to the COVID outbreak last year


Dominic Cummings: Boris Johnson ‘unfit for job’, Matt Hancock repeatedly ‘lied’ and ‘tens of thousands died who didn’t need to’


Dominic Cummings: Boris Johnson ‘unfit for job’, Matt Hancock repeatedly ‘lied’ and ‘tens of thousands died who didn’t need to’

Sky, Mail, BBC::

Tens of thousands of people died unnecessarily because of the government’s failings over coronavirus and Boris Johnson was “unfit for the job” of prime minister, Dominic Cummings has said.

The PM’s former top adviser claimed Mr Johnson thought COVID was a “scare story” like swine flu in the early days of the pandemic – and did not hold back in attacking Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

In an explosive Commons hearing on coronavirus lasting more than seven hours, Mr Cummings has told MPs that the government failed the public in the early months of 2020.Explaining why Mr Johnson did not attend the COBRA meetings at the start of last year, he said: “The prime minister described it as the new swine flu, I certainly told him it wasn’t.

“The view from No 10 was if the PM chairs COBRA and says it’s just swine flu that would not help.”

 

Dominic Cummings’ bombshell evidence

The initial apology: ‘The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its Government in a crisis like this. When the public needed us most the Government failed. I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that.’

On the lack of preparation in February 2020: ‘We didn’t act like it was important in February, let alone January…. No10 and the government were not working on a war footing in February, it wasn’t until the last week of February there was any sense of urgency.’

On Boris Johnson’s attitude to Covid: ‘In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story. He described it as the new swine flu… The view of various officials inside No10 was if we have the PM chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone ”it’s swine flu don’t worry about it, I am going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus so everyone realise it’s nothing to be frightened of”, that would not help actual serious planning.’

On the first lockdown timing: ‘In retrospect it is clear that the official plan was wrong, it is clear that the whole advice was wrong, and I think it is clear that we obviously should have locked down essentially the first week of March at the latest. We certainly should have been doing all of these things weeks before we did, I think it’s unarguable that that is the case.’

On his role in the lockdown delay: ‘There’s no doubt in retrospect that yes, it was a huge failure of mine and I bitterly regret that I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier then I did. In retrospect there’s no doubt I was wrong not to.’

On No10 in March 2020: ‘It was like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken and you need a new plan.’

On Boris being distracted by Carrie and Trump: ‘It sounds so surreal couldn’t possibly be true … that day, the Times had run a huge story about the Prime Minister and his girlfriend and their dog. The Prime Minister’s girlfriend was going completely crackers about this story and demanding that the press office deal with that. So we had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying are we going to bomb Iraq? Part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not do quarantine, the Prime Minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.’

On the PM missing Cobra meetings: ‘Lots of Cobra meetings are just going through PowerPoint slides and are not massively useful.’

On Health Secretary Matt Hancock: ‘I think the Secretary of State for Health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the Cabinet room and publicly. There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the Secretary of State for Health is certainly one of those people. I said repeatedly to the Prime Minister that he should be fired, so did the Cabinet Secretary, so did many other senior people.’

On herd immunity: ‘It is not that people are thinking this is a good thing, it is that it is a complete inevitability, the only real question is one of timing. It’s either going to be by September or it’s herd immunity by January (2021) after a second peak.’

On not cancelling mass sports events like Cheltenham Festival: ‘The official advice at the time (March 2020)  was that that a) won’t make much difference to transmission, which seems absolutely bizarre in retrospect, the idea that we would keep mass events going on through this whole thing. But also secondly, it could be actively bad because you’d push people into pubs. Of course no one in the official system in the Department of Health drew the obvious logical conclusion which was well, shouldn’t we be shutting all the pubs as well?’

On Government secrecy: ‘There is no doubt at all that the process by which Sage was secret and overall the whole thinking around the strategy was secret was an absolutely catastrophic mistake, because it meant that there wasn’t proper scrutiny of the assumptions, the underlying logic. Actually Sage agreed with this, when I said on March 11 we are going to have to make all these models public and whatnot, there wasn’t pushback from sage or Patrick Vallance either. Patrick actually agreed with me.’ 

On Boris v Jeremy Corbyn at the 2019 election: ‘There’s so many thousands and thousands of wonderful people in this country who could provide better leadership than either of those two. And there’s obviously something terribly wrong with the political parties if that’s the best that they can do.’

He added that the PM wanted to be injected with the coronavirus live on TV by chief medical officer Chris Whitty to show it was not harmful.

Mr Cummings tweeted a picture of the whiteboard before his explosive grilling from MPs over how Downing St handled the pandemic. He captioned the image: 'First sketch of Plan B, PM study, Fri 13/3 eve - shown PM Sat 14/4: NB. Plan A "our plan" breaks NHS,>4k p/day dead min.Plan B: lockdown, suppress, crash programs (tests/treatments/vaccines etc), escape 1st AND 2nd wave (squiggly line instead of 1 or 2 peaks)... details later'

Mr Cummings spoke of how many junior people in government “did great things” but were let down by those in senior positions, adding: “The problem in this crisis was lions led by donkeys over and over again.”Matt Hancock took much of Mr Cummings’ flak, claiming that he, the cabinet secretary and other senior officials called for the PM to fire the health secretary for “at least 15-20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in many meetings”.

Mr Cummings said the PM “was close” to firing Mr Hancock in April 2020 “but wouldn’t do it”.

He added that Mr Hancock took too long to get test and trace set up and told the PM: “If we don’t fire the secretary of state and we don’t get testing into someone’s hands, we are going to kill lots of people.”

Mr Hancock has rejected Mr Cummings’ claims with a spokesman for the health secretary saying he “has worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances to protect the NHS and save lives”.

The PM’s former chief aide also said:

• He heard the PM in his study say he would rather see “bodies pile high” than go into a third lockdown – which the PM has flatly denied

• It is “crackers” that people like Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were the only two options at the last general election

• Chancellor Rishi Sunak supported locking down (and never threatened to quit over the second lockdown), it was the PM who did not think the pandemic “was the big danger”

• “It is crazy I should have been in such a senior position, I’m not smart, I’ve not built great things in the world – neither is the PM” – and he said he and the PM let down brilliant junior colleagues

• Plan A was herd immunity by September after one peak but after it was modelled 260,000 would die, or more, that was changed

• There was no plan for financial help for people and the chancellor and his team had to create the whole scheme in a few days

• There was no plan for shielding in the pandemic plan but some “brilliant” officials in the Department of Health hacked together a plan in two all-nighters

• “Groupthink” prevented ministers and officials from realising how severe the situation was going to get

• When the PM got COVID, Mr Cummings said: “In lots of ways, the whole core of government fundamentally fell apart.”

• There were claims it would be “racist” to close the borders because it would be tantamount to “blaming China”

• Then-deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara walked into a meeting with Mr Cummings and other officials on 13 March 2020 and said: “I’ve been told for years that there’s a whole plan for this, there is not plan, we’re in huge trouble.

“I think we’re absolutely f****d and we’re going to kill thousands of people.”

When DID Cummings raise alarm bells about Covid and what did he say?

According to Dominic Cummings’s testimony in Parliamentary committee today, this is a timeline of his actions behind closed doors at No.10:

January 25

Advised No.10 to ‘look at pandemic planning and soon’ after lacking confidence in the UK’s preparations following a talk with Health Secretary Matt Hancock. Cummings said he himself stopped talking to journalists.

February

Cummings said he ‘wrote a note’ to Boris Johnson about Covid in February but the outbreak was not at the top of the Government’s agenda, even after the World Health Organization had warned it was an ‘international concern’.

He was working on reforming government procurement processes and ‘dealing with other things like HS2, national security issues and the [Cabinet] reshuffle’. He and the Prime Minister did not regularly attend COBRA meetings.

Cummings and Mr Johnson realised at the end of the month that ‘claims about brilliant preparations and how everything was in order were basically completely hollow’.

March 5

Was personally convinced and afraid that the situation was out of control and ‘was increasingly being told by people this is going wrong’. He admitted to being ‘incredibly frightened’ of taking the executive decision to tell the Prime Minister the plan needed to change. At this point SAGE recommended shielding elderly and vulnerable people.

March 11

Told the Prime Minister to change the policy because the country’s direction at the time – ‘mitigation’ – would lead to disaster. Stricter measures were needed to stop the outbreak from overwhelming the NHS, he warned.

March 12

Cummings rammed home the message that things needed to change. Cummings warned the Prime Minister there were ‘big problems coming’ if the Government didn’t immediately tell people that they must self-isolate and cut themselves off from others if they felt ill.

He described it as a ‘completely surreal day’ and said he sent a message to the PM saying: ‘We’ve got big problems coming. The Cabinet Office is terrifyingly s***. No plans, totally behind the pace, we must announce today, not next week. We must force the pace. We’re looking at 100,000 to 500,000 deaths between optimistic and pessimistic scenarios.’

Mr Johnson was reportedly distracted because Donald Trump wanted him to join a bombing campaign in the Middle East and his fiancee, Carrie Symonds, was angry about a story in the media about the couple’s dog, Dilyn.

March 13

Whiteboard ‘Plan B’ was drawn up and shows Cummings realised hospitals wouldn’t be able to cope with the surge in people infected with Covid. The penny dropped that lockdown would be necessary to control the outbreak and he wrote the chilling question: ‘Who do we not save?’

That evening, he said, the second most senior civil servant at the Cabinet Office, Helen MacNamara, walked into Mr Johnson’s office and allegedly said: ‘I think we are absolutely f*****’, and warned that ‘thousands’ of people could die. Ms MacNamara had, Cummings said, been told by the director general at the Cabinet Office: ‘I have been told for years that there is a plan for this, there is no plan, we are in huge trouble’.

There was no plan for what to do with all the bodies of people who would die if there was a massive spike in fatalities, he said.

March 14

Cummings showed the whiteboard to the Prime Minister, he said, and suggested to Mr Johnson that social contact would have to be limited and pubs closed.

March 16

Cummings and other officials were ramping up the pressure after realising the UK was headed for disaster, but there was still no reliable data to work out how bad the situation already was. He said Sir Simon Stevens, the chief of NHS England, was relying on intensive care data, which is known to come around three weeks later than changes in infection rates and people generally don’t start getting admitted until there are thousands of cases per day. Cummings said he was working out epidemic growth and possible numbers of cases and deaths using the calculator on his phone and writing on a whiteboard.

Cummings finds out that the Cabinet Office is not responsible for controlling or scrutinising pandemic response plans, after believing it was for over six weeks, he said.

• On telling the PM he was going to resign in December 2020, Mr Cummings claimed the PM told him: “You’re right, I am more frightened of you having the power to stop the chaos than I am of the chaos, chaos isn’t that bad because chaos means that everyone has to look to me to see who’s in charge.”

• On Mr Hancock saying people would be tested before they returned to care homes and there was a shield around care homes, Mr Cummings said he lied and said: “Quite the opposite, complete nonsense – we sent people with COVID back to care homes”

• On whether or not to sack Mr Hancock, Mr Cummings said the PM was told: “Don’t sack him now, he’s the person you sack when the inquiry comes along.”

• He would rate the government’s response: “Some individual brilliant responses – overall system, total failure.”

• He did not quit when he considered doing so in the summer because people urged him not to and: “Fundamentally I regarded [Johnson] unfit for the job and I was trying to create a structure around him to stop extremely bad decisions.”

• He made the trip to Durham to get his family out of London following death threats and a gang outside his house, where his wife and son, aged three, were saying they were going to kill everyone in the house – he said it was a mistake to leave out that crucial part of the explanation

• He said it was logical at the time to go for a 30 mile drive to Barnard Castle to see if he could cope with driving 300 miles to Westminster, and had been writing his will in bed a few days before because he thought he was going to die.

“I wish I’d never heard of Barnard Castle and I’d never have gone, and I can only apologise,” he added

• Patrick Vallance was instrumental in getting the early vaccine contracts and “deserves absolutely enormous credit for his role in the vaccine task force”

• After March, the PM thought the UK should not have gone into lockdown and should have focused on the economy – “I thought that perspective was completely mad”.

• Mr Cummings said: “Fundamentally the prime minister and I do not agree about COVID. I had very little influence on COVID stuff, I mean I tried, I made arguments, but as you can see on pretty much all the major arguments basically lost.”

Cummings brands Matt Hancock a ‘liar’ who should have been sacked

Dominic Cummings accused Matt Hancock of ‘criminal, disgraceful behaviour’ during the early days of the Covid pandemic today as he launched an astonishing broadside at the Health Secretary.

During a no-holds-barred attack on the senior Cabinet Minister he accused him of being a serial liar whose behaviour directly hindered the Government’s ability to tackle the pandemic last year.

In a rollercoaster appearance in front of MPs today Mr Cummings outlined a series of failings by Mr Hancock and the Department of Health and Social Care.

Mr Cummings told a joint committee of MPs today: ‘One thing I can say completely honestly is that I said repeatedly from February/March that if we don’t fire the Secretary of State and get testing into somebody else’s hands, we’re going to kill people and it’s going to be a catastrophe.’

In a withering assessment of the Health Secretary’s abilities Mr Cummings:

  • Branded the minister ‘stupid’ for boasting last year that the test-and-trace system would be able to do 100,000 tests per day by the end April, saying it slowed the much-maligned system’s long-term development.
  • Alleged that the Health Secretary ‘categorically’ told the Prime Minister directly that elderly people in hospital would be tested for Covid before being discharged to care homes – something which did not happen and contributed to the death toll.
  • Accused Mr Hancock of overplaying the UK’s readiness for a massive infectious disease outbreak early last year, before Britain was affected.
  • Claimed that Mr Hancock used scientists including chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance as a ‘shield’  who could be blamed if things went wrong.
  • Alleged that Boris Johnson was advised to keep Matt Hancock as Health Secretary because ‘he’s the person you fire when an inquiry comes along’.

Duiscussing mr Hancock’s interference in test and trace, Mr Cummings said:  ‘In my opinion he should have been fired for that thing alone and that itself meant that the whole of April was hugely disrupted by different parts of Whitehall fundamentally trying to operate in different ways completely because Hancock wanted to be able to go on TV and say ”look at me and my 100k target”.

‘It was criminal, disgraceful behaviour that caused serious harm’.

• Asked if he is surprised about the chaos over the current travel traffic light system, he said: “No, it’s deja vu all over again.”

• His departure was inevitable in September, but Mr Johnson’s girlfriend Carrie Symonds was something to do with it as she tried to change “a whole bunch of different appointments”, was appointing her friends to jobs, was overturning the hiring process of one job, which was “unethical and clearly illegal”. The PM’s behaviour was “appalling”, he said

• Asked if he thinks the PM is a fit and proper person to get us through the pandemic, Mr Cummings said: “No.”

At the start of the session, Mr Cummings said the government failed the public when they needed it most, and apologised to the families of those who died in the early days of the pandemic.

Taking some of the blame himself, he said: “The truth is, senior minister, officials, advisers like me fell disastrously short of standards required by the public.

“When the public needed us the most, the government failed. I want to apologise to all those families who had people that died.

“I did think oh my god, is this what people have been warning about all this time?

“However, PHE, WHO, CDC, organisations across the western world were not ringing the alarm bells about it then.

“In retrospect, it’s completely obvious that many institutions failed.”

At the end of the hearing, Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, who chair the select committees that questioned Mr Cummings, said: “As part of our joint parliamentary inquiry into lessons learnt from the government’s response to the pandemic, it has been important to hear about decisions taken by Downing Street at the outset to deal with the threat from COVID-19.

“We will review the evidence given by Dominic Cummings today and will publish relevant documents we accept as evidence in due course.

“Secretary of State Matt Hancock will appear before us next month when we will have a further opportunity to explore steps taken by Ministers and the outcomes.”

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