Dominic Cummings has claimed that the British PM denied the NHS would be overwhelmed by rising Covid-19 cases last year and was reluctant to impose a second lockdown, as he did not want to “kill the economy” to save the elderly.
The former top Downing Street adviser made the bombshell revelations in his first TV interview since leaving office. During the conversation with the BBC, Cummings said Boris Johnson “put his own political interests ahead of people’s lives, for sure.”
In the lead-up to the second lockdown in November, Cummings said Johnson’s attitude was a “weird mix” of “partly ‘it’s all nonsense and lockdowns don’t work anyway,’ and partly ‘well, this is terrible but the people who are dying are essentially all over 80, and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.’”
According to WhatsApp messages leaked by Cummings to the public broadcaster, the PM had joked that people could “get Covid and live longer,” since most deaths were of those who were “above [average] life expectancy.”
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In messages sent to aides in mid-October, Johnson reportedly described himself as being “slightly rocked by some of the data on Covid fatalities,” which he then reasoned “shows we don’t go for nationwide lockdown.”
Noting that the “median age” for Covid deaths was between 81 and 82 for men and 85 for women, and that “there are max [three million people]” aged over 80 in the UK, he allegedly wrote there was a “need to recalibrate” public health thinking around lockdowns.
“Hardly anyone under 60 goes into hospital … and of those virtually all survive. And I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelmed stuff,” Johnson apparently wrote.
The revelations cast additional doubt over the PM’s actions last autumn – a period in which, Cummings claimed, Johnson had continued to ignore recommendations made by his scientific and medical advisers to bring in tougher restrictions.
“When you get to the week of around about 15 to 19 September, by that point the data was clear about what was happening,” Cummings said, adding that Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance and Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty had told Johnson to “consider hitting it hard and early.”
In response, Cummings claimed, the PM said, “No, no no, no, no, I’m not doing it.”
Alleging that Johnson was concerned about the potential reaction of his “real boss” in right-wing news media and the Conservative Party, Cummings said the PM told his advisers that he should not have agreed to the first lockdown earlier in the year.
“He then basically reverted and said, actually the whole thing was a disaster, we should never have done it, I was right in February, we should basically just ignore it and just let the thing wash through the country and not destroy the economy and move on,” Cummings said.
Cummings also claimed that Johnson had wanted to meet Queen Elizabeth in person in March 2020, when Downing Street staff were already falling ill and after the PM had told the public to avoid all unnecessary contact, particularly with the elderly.
“You obviously can’t go … I just said if you, if you give her coronavirus and she dies what, what are you gonna, you can’t do that, you can’t risk that, that’s completely insane. And he said, he basically just hadn’t thought it through, he said, yeah, ‘holy shit, I can’t go.’”
A Downing Street spokesperson denied that this incident took place, while Buckingham Palace has declined to comment.
When asked during the interview for proof to back up his version of events, Cummings stated that many of his allegations would be corroborated by a public inquiry. Since falling out with Johnson last year, he has repeatedly blamed the government for thousands of avoidable Covid-19 deaths.
A Downing Street spokesperson said the prime minister had taken “the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice” since the pandemic began.
Meanwhile, the opposition Labour Party echoed Cummings’ call for a public inquiry and said the revelations were “further evidence that the prime minister has made the wrong calls time and again at the expense of public health.”
The full interview will be broadcast on Tuesday.
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