After allegations from a former aide to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the United Kingdom’s government has denied that the official plan for managing COVID-19 in early 2020 was reaching herd immunity through controlled outbreaks.
The U.K. has seen nearly 128,000 deaths from COVID-19, the highest count in Europe, and one of the worst recessions in the world. Dominic Cummings, the former aide to Johnson, said that up until early March 2020, the government’s policy was to let COVID-19 spread through the general population while shielding higher-risk groups of people.
In a series of recent Twitter posts, Cummings said that the government was in “total & utter” chaos and could have prevented lockdowns and fatalities if it had acted sooner.
“If we’d had the right preparations + competent people in charge, we wd probably have avoided lockdown1, *definitely* no need for lockdowns 2&3,” Cummings tweeted.
Max Blain, a spokesman for the Johnson, said that “herd immunity from infection has never been government policy.”
On Wednesday, Cummings plans to testify on live television for lawmakers regarding his allegations regarding Britain’s management of the virus. An investigation into the matter is ongoing.
For additional reporting on this story, see more from the Associated Press below.
Cummings’ critics are not surprised he is causing a fuss. The self-styled political disruptor has long expressed contempt for the civil service, many politicians and much of the media.
He was one of the architects of the successful campaign to take Britain out of the European Union, credited with coining the powerfully simple slogan “Take back control.” He also hired a firm linked to Cambridge Analytica, which detractors say unleashed the poison of data-harvesting and social-media manipulation into the British political bloodstream.
When Johnson, co-leader of the Brexit “leave” campaign, became prime minister in 2019, Cummings was appointed his top aide, a powerful post that saw him dubbed “Boris’s brain.” He slouched around Downing St. in sweatpants and T-shirts and spoke of his desire to radically reconfigure government. He irked many politicians, who grumbled about unelected advisers wielding undue influence.
Cummings was thrust from the shadows into the spotlight in May 2020, when newspapers revealed he had driven 250 miles (400 kilometers) across the country after contracting COVID-19, despite a nationwide stay-at-home order. His defense — that he was seeking childcare help from relatives in case he got sick — rang hollow to many Britons who had made sacrifices and endured isolation to follow the rules.
Johnson resisted calls to fire Cummings for flouting rules the government had imposed on the rest of the country. But a few months later, Cummings quit, walking out of 10 Downing St. with a box full of possessions after losing a power struggle inside the prime minister’s office.
He kept out of the public eye for several months, before unleashing his Twitter storm in recent weeks ahead of Wednesday’s testimony to Parliament’s health and science committees.
Sam Freedman, who worked with Cummings as an adviser at the Department for Education, told Sky News that Cummings wanted to distance himself from decisions, even though he was at the heart of government when they were made.
“He is a very acute analyst of problems, but he often doesn’t apply that analysis to his own behavior,” Freedman said.