The Government lacked a plan for shielding when the Covid pandemic became a fact, even after it had decided it was necessary, its former chief advisor Dominic Cummings has sensationally suggested.
Delivering evidence to the joint enquiry by the Health and Social Care and the Science and Technology committees today (26 May), Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s one-time most senior aide made a series of revelations about the handling of the ongoing crisis.
One was the confession that the entire shielding strategy was simply ‘hacked together in two all-nighters’.
Ultimately, the Department of Health and Social Care notified over two million clinically extremely vulnerable people in the UK to ‘shield’ by staying at home to reduce their risk of contracting the virus.
But it implemented a number of changes to this process throughout, including with thousands of dead people receiving shielding letters, and over 1.7m being added to the original list. The date for shielding to formally cease was also repeatedly pushed back.
Mr Cummings said today: ‘The shielding plan was literally hacked together in two all-nighters, after 19th I think, Thursday 19th [March 2020]. There wasn’t any plan for shielding – there wasn’t even a helpline for shielding – there wasn’t any plan for financial incentives. There wasn’t any plan for almost anything in any kind of detail at all.’
He had recalled how on that date, he gathered Government officials to ask where the plan on shielding was.
Elsewhere in the bombshell session, he added: ‘Not only was there not a plan – lots of people in the Cabinet Office said we shouldn’t have a plan, we shouldn’t put out a helpline for people to call, because it will all just be swamped and we haven’t got a system.’
‘On this crazy day of the 12th [March], we’re sitting in the Prime Minister’s office, we’re talking about the herd immunity plan. The cabinet secretary said: “Prime Minister, you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties. We need people to get this disease, because that’s how we get herd immunity by September.’
Mr Cummings claimed that he told him that he has to ‘stop using this chicken pox analogy’, as well as of his ‘bitter regret’ about timings surrounding the first lockdown.
He also made revelations about the failure to protect care home patients from Covid exposure.
He said: ‘We were told categorically in March that people would be tested before they went ba2ck to care homes, we only subsequently found out that that hadn’t happened.
‘Now all the Government rhetoric was we put a shield around care homes” and blah blah blah. It was complete nonsense. Quite the opposite of putting a shield around them, we sent people with Covid back to the care homes.’
Other claims made by Mr Cummings in the hearing included:
- Once the Government decided in favour of lockdown it could not be immediately announced because the ‘planning and preparation’ had ‘not been made’
- they considered the impact of allowing crowds at a number of large events during mid-March but were concerned cancellations would just drive people into pubs – they had not even considered the idea that pubs could be closed as well
- they didn’t think the public would accept a lockdown (which Mr Cummings said in retrospect was wrong)
- a meeting to discuss recommended self-isolation for people with Covid symptoms was sidelined during a specific day because US President Donald Trump wanted the UK to join ‘a bombing campaign in the Middle East’ and Boris Johnson’s partner Carrie Symonds was going ‘crackers’ over a ‘trivial’ Times report about her dog
- Mr Johnson thought Covid was not serious and was ‘just like swine flu’ – even considering being personally ‘injected’ with Covid to prove his point
- health secretary Matt Hancock ‘should have’ been sacked for ‘lying’ on ‘multiple occasions’ during the pandemic handling – and Mr Johnson came ‘close’ to doing so, relating to Test and Trace failures
- there were not problems with communication, but it difficult to convey ‘bad policy, bad decisions, bad planning, bad operational capability’
- Mr Johnson regrets the first lockdown and thinks the Government should have prioritised the economy.