Prime Minister Boris Johnson was urged by cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill to tell the British public to hold “chicken pox parties” to catch coronavirus and help the country reach herd immunity, former adviser Dominic Cummings told MPs.
Cummings also said Johnson initially thought the coronavirus pandemic was a “scare story” comparable to swine flu, and wanted to go on television and be injected with the virus by chief medical officer Chris Whitty to prove it was not a major threat.
On the “crazy day” of 12 March, Cummings said that Sedwill advocated chicken pox-style parties, which are a way of deliberately infecting children with the disease, to speed up the spread of Covid-19.
“We have the prime minister chairing Cobra meetings and he tells everyone it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus, so everyone realises its nothing to be frightened of”
“The Cabinet secretary said [to the PM]: ‘You should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it’s like the old chicken pox parties: we need people to get this disease because that’s how we get herd immunity by September,” Cummings told MPs on the Science and Technology committee on 26 May.
“I said: ‘Mark you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right,’ and he said ‘why?’” Cummings said.
Cummings claimed one of his advisers, Ben Warner, a data scientist, then said: “Chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people.”
“You could sense in the whole room there was this kind of shock,” Cummings said.
He described the moment as a “Jeff Goldblum scene with Ben explaining things,” and said “the whole thing seemed like an out of control movie”.
Earlier in his testimony, Cummings said officials in Number 10 did not want the PM chairing emergency Cobra meetings on coronavirus as he would play down the risks of the disease.
“In February the Prime Minister regarded this as just a scare story, he described it as ‘the new swine flu,’” Cummings said.
“If we have the prime minister chairing Cobra meetings and he tells everyone it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with coronavirus, so everyone realises its nothing to be frightened of, that would not help serious planning,” Cummings said.
Johnson’s former senior adviser said the government’s initial strategy, which he said was to try and protect vulnerable people while pushing for herd immunity from the virus, was a mistake.
“It’s clear the official plan was wrong, it’s clear that the whole advice was wrong and I think it’s clear we obviously should have locked down essentially the first week of March at the latest. We certainly should have been doing all of these things weeks earlier than we did. It’s unarguable that it’s the case,” he said.
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