British Prime Minister Boris Johnson initially thought the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus was just a “scare story” and “the new swine flu,” and even expressed willingness to be injected with the virus on live TV to show it was nothing to be afraid of, his former right-hand man in Downing Street has claimed.
Dominic Cummings served as Johnson’s top adviser in Number 10. But since leaving the government last year, he has been critical of his former boss.
Giving evidence on Wednesday to the health and science committees of the House of Commons, Cummings slammed the government’s initial failure to realise the seriousness of the disease and to take action.
He said Johnson regarded the CCP virus as “just a scare story” as late as in February, and described it as “the new swine flu.”
According to Cummings, Johnson even said he would get Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, to inject him with the virus live on TV “so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of.”
Cummings did not pull any punches when he condemned the government’s handling of the pandemic.
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me, fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this,” he said.
He said the government “failed” when the public needed it most, and apologised to “all the families of those who died unnecessarily” as a result.
He said while the Taiwanese government “hit the panic button” before the New Year, the Western world including Britain “completely failed to see the smoke and to hear the alarm bells” until much later.
“The government itself and Number 10 was not operating on a war footing in February on this in any way, shape, or form. Lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February. It wasn’t until the last week of February that there was really any sort of sense of urgency I would say, across the, in terms of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.”
Cummings blamed the alleged government failure partly on the UK’s political system, which he said has prevented competent people from holding senior positions.
He said it was “crackers” that Boris Johnson has become prime minister, and that the alternative offered by Labour was Jeremy Corbyn, a hard-left politician. “The problem in this crisis was very much lions led by donkeys over and over again,” he said.
At Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament, Johnson said he took “full responsibility” but he did not accept Cummings’s accusation that government inaction led to unnecessary deaths.
“The handling of this pandemic has been one of the most difficult things this country’s had to do for a very long time but none of the decisions have been easy.
“To go into a lockdown is a traumatic thing for a country, to deal with a pandemic on this scale has been appallingly difficult, and we’ve in every stage tried to minimise loss of life, to save lives, to protect the NHS, and we have followed the best scientific advice that we can,” he said.
Reuters contributed to this report.