‘Thousands will die’: Dominic Cummings doubles down on COVID-19 herd immunity claim

In a hotly anticipated appearance before a parliamentary select committee this morning, Dominic Cummings doubled down on his claim that the Government’s official plan until the middle of March was to achieve herd immunity.

Dominic Cummings giving evidence about the Government's response to the pandemic
Dominic Cummings giving evidence about the Government's response to the pandemic

Dominic Cummings, who was Boris Johnson’s most senior advisor until his departure from Downing Street in November, said he bitterly regretted not trying to get the Prime Minister to change course on herd immunity.

In his evidence to the Science and Technology Committee and the Health and Social Care Committee, Cummings said: “I was frightened of the consequences of saying the official plan was wrong and that I would kill everyone – what if I was wrong?”

He described a period of almost surreal calm within the Government in January and February last year, with ministers away skiing and Johnson taking a two-week holiday following his February reshuffle.

In the meantime, Cummings claimed in his evidence, the Government's Science Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) had drawn up a plan that presented herd immunity as the only way to deal with the pandemic.

Cummings said the assumption of SAGE was that there would be no vaccine available in 2020 and that the Government’s choice was to allow a peak in cases and achieve herd immunity by September that year, or to introduce suppression measures, such as a lockdown, risk a worse peak over the winter and achieve it by January. This was regarded as inevitable.

Cummings said the thinking in SAGE and across government was that “the British people will not accept a lockdown or a track and trace system because of the implications for civil liberties. Those two assumptions were critical with regards to the official plan [to try to reach herd immunity] and they were completely wrong.”

But as the realisation grew that herd immunity would lead to hundreds of thousands of deaths, Cummings described a series of dramatic meetings in late March during which he and a scientific advisor he had employed advised Johnson to change course.

The night before this meeting, Cummings claimed that the deputy cabinet secretary, Helen MacNamara, entered his office in Downing Street and said: “I’ve been told for years there is a plan for [handling a pandemic]. There is no plan. We are absolutely fucked and thousands are going to die.”

The following day, Cummings and his scientific advisor held a meeting with Johnson which he described as a being like a scene from a 90s disaster movie.

He said: “This is like a scene from Independence Day with Jeff Goldblum saying the aliens are here and your whole plan is broken… that is what the scene was like that morning.”

In advance of today’s appearance before MPs, Cummings criticised the Government’s actions via a lengthy Twitter thread of more than 60 tweets. His notorious trip from London to County Durham at the height of the first lockdown does not feature in them.

He claims that achieving herd immunity “had been the plan” until the week of 9 March 2020, when “No10 was made aware by various people that the official plan wd lead to catastrophe”.

He accused the Government of trying to cover up its original plan: “No10 decided to lie: 'herd immunity has never been... part of our coronavirus strategy'. V foolish, & appalling ethics, to lie about it. The right line wd have been what PM knows is true: our original plan was wrong & we changed when we realised.”

Cummings tweeted: “Critical as I am of the PM in all sorts of ways, it's vital to understand the disaster was not just his fault: the official plan was disastrously misconceived.”

In his view, the Department of Health and Social Care and the Cabinet Office “did not understand this or why”. And a ‘Plan B’ “had to be bodged amid total & utter chaos.”

The prime minister’s former chief adviser argued that if the “right preparations” had been made, with “competent people in charge”, the country would “probably” have avoided having to go into the first lockdown and “definitely” would not have needed to go into the subsequent lockdowns. 

During an appearance on the Andrew Marr Show on BBC 1 last Sunday, Home Secretary Priti Patel categorically denied that the Government ever had a herd immunity strategy.

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