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London: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once suggested that he be injected with coronavirus live on television to prove it wasn’t dangerous, his former chief adviser has claimed.
Dominic Cummings – a key force behind Brexit and Johnson’s thumping 2019 election win – also conceded the government’s decision to delay lockdown at the start of the pandemic had caused “carnage”.
Dominic Cummings, once British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s most powerful and trusted aide, says the government’s decision to delay lockdown at the start of the pandemic had caused “carnage”.Credit:AP
Appearing before a parliamentary inquiry into Britain’s response to the crisis, Cummings said senior ministers and staff had fallen “disastrously short”.
“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” he said.
Nearly 130,000 people have died from COVID-19 and the economy has been smashed by two strict lockdowns.
Asked whether COVID-19 was the most important matter the government had dealt with from January 2020, Cummings replied: “It didn’t act like it was the most important thing in February, let alone January.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson once suggested that he be injected with coronavirus live on television to prove it wasn’t dangerous, his former chief adviser claims.Credit:Getty Images
“The government itself and No.10 were not operating on a war footing on this in February. Lots of key people were literally skiing in February,” he said.
Cummings said he regretted not “pushing the panic button” earlier, and noted Johnson was on holiday for two weeks that month.
He also sensationally claimed Johnson had downplayed the risks of COVID-19 by likening it to swine flu. Cummings said the Prime Minister once floated the idea of having chief medical officer Chris Whitty inject him with coronavirus on TV.
Johnson contracted COVID-19 in early April and was eventually admitted to intensive care. He later said the disease nearly killed him.
Dominic Cummings arrives for the parliamentary committee hearing. Credit:AP
Cummings said the government had operated on the mistaken belief that the British public would not accept widespread lockdowns and track and trace measures.
“Those two assumptions were completely central to the official plan and were both obviously completely wrong,” he said.
“In the first half of March, this was raised sometimes in the Prime Minister’s office and me and others were literally pointing at the TV screen of Lombardy [the hard-hit region of northern Italy]. We were getting text messages from our own families saying, ‘What’s going on?’
“This assumption that the public aren’t that frightened and don’t want to have a lockdown is false and we should abandon it.”
He also recounted a meeting in March in which Helen McNamara, a very senior cabinet office official, came into a meeting and said there was no plan to deal with the impending disaster.
“I think we are absolutely f—ed,” McNamara apparently said, according to Cummings.
The political implications of Wednesday’s revelations are unclear. Johnson is riding a wave of popularity in Britain due to the government’s world-leading vaccination program, and Cummings’ own credibility with the public was damaged when he seemingly broke lockdown rules last year.
Cummings refused to apologise at the time for driving 400 kilometres from London to Durham even though he and his wife had coronavirus.
He also undertook a separate 100-kilometre round journey. Under pressure to explain that, Cummings claimed COVID-19 had damaged his eyes and he needed to test whether his sight was strong enough to eventually drive back to London.
Cummings has committed to turn over all WhatsApp messages, emails and letters he holds about the pandemic.
Challenged over why he didn’t encourage Johnson to lock down earlier, Cummings told Wednesday’s hearing, “There’s no doubt in retrospect it was a huge failing of mine and I bitterly regret I didn’t hit the emergency panic button earlier than I did.
“I failed and I apologise for it.”
A royal commission-style inquiry into the pandemic will also start next year.
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