'Absolutely f*****': Dominic Cummings describes moment COVID disaster dawned on Downing Street in mid-March

·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·4-min read

Watch: 'I think we are absolutely f*****': Dominic Cummings describes moment officials realised extent of COVID crisis

Dominic Cummings has described the moment Downing Street officials realised the extent of the coronavirus disaster in March last year, when they were told by a senior official: “I think we are absolutely f*****."

Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, giving long-awaited evidence to the House of Commons health and social care and science and technology committees on Wednesday, quoted a senior official as saying: “There is no plan.”

He described how on 13 March last year, 10 days before the first lockdown, officials realised “something has gone fundamentally wrong in the wiring of the system”.

Cummings, who earlier in the meeting accused the prime minister of failing to take COVID seriously at the start of the outbreak, said the government’s initial plans to deal with the virus would “completely smash through the capacity of the NHS” and that the UK was “heading for the biggest disaster the country has seen since 1940”.

Watch: Dominic Cummings committee testimony on Boris Johnson and COVID – live

He said: “At this point, the second most powerful official in the country, Helen McNamara, is the deputy cabinet secretary. She walked into the office while we’re looking at this whiteboard.

“She says: ‘I’ve just been talking to the official, Mark Sweeney, who is in charge of co-ordinating with the Department for Health. He said, quote, I’ve been told for years there is a whole plan for this. There is no plan. We’re in huge trouble.’

“Helen McNamara said: ‘I’ve come through here to the prime minister’s office to tell you all… ‘I think we are absolutely f*****, I think this country’s heading for a disaster, I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.’”

Dominic Cummings, former Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, giving evidence to a joint inquiry of the Commons Health and Social Care and Science and Technology Committees on the subject of Coronavirus: lessons learnt. Picture date: Wednesday May 26, 2021.
Dominic Cummings at the commitee on Wednesday. (PA)

In further damning testimony, Cummings outlined the “insane” situation on 12 March in which people in government were consumed with completely separate matters as the looming crisis approached.

This included a potential bombing campaign in the Middle East at the request of Dominic Trump, and a story in The Times newspaper about Boris Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds' dog.

“So we had this sort of completely insane situation in which part of the building was saying: ‘Are we going to bomb Iraq?’ Part of the building was arguing about whether or not we’re going to do quarantine or not do quarantine, [and] the prime minister has his girlfriend going crackers about something completely trivial.”

On the same day, Cummings also said then-cabinet secretary Sir Mark Sedwill had suggested Johnson go on television and tell people to catch COVID-19 as if it was chicken pox. This was three days after Italy went into a national lockdown.

“I said: ‘Mark, you have got to stop using this chicken pox analogy, it’s not right.’”

Cummings claimed Sedwill asked him why, and Ben Warner, a data analyst ally of Cummings, said: “Because chickenpox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people.”

Speaking in Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday afternoon, Boris Johnson deflected questions about Cummings' evidence, saying that they would be addressed in the public inquiry that has already been commissioned.

Hancock should have been fired

Cummings reserved his strongest criticism for the leadership throughout parts of Whitehall, most notably the health secretary Matt Hancock who he said should have been fired for "at least 15 to 20 things".

In a blistering personal attack on the health secretary, Cummings accused Hancock of lying to his cabinet colleagues and the public. 

Cummings said: “Like in much of the government system, there were many brilliant people at relatively junior and middle levels who were terribly let down by senior leadership.

“I think the secretary of state for health should’ve been fired for at least 15, 20 things, including lying to everybody on multiple occasions in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly.

“There’s no doubt at all that many senior people performed far, far disastrously below the standards which the country has a right to expect. I think the secretary of state for health is certainly one of those people."

He said the cabinet secretary said the Government had to “divvy up” the health secretary’s job because there were “multiple huge things here that were all being dropped”.

On the claim that Hancock lied, Cummings said: “There are numerous examples.

“In the summer he said that everybody who needed treatment got the treatment they required. He knew that that was a lie because he had been briefed by the chief scientific adviser and the chief medical officer himself about the first peak.

“We were told explicitly people did not get the treatment they deserved, many people were left to die in horrific circumstances.”

A spokesman for the Health Secretary has "absolutely rejected" claims he lied.

Watch: 'He wanted to be injected with coronavirus’: Dominic Cummings says PM thought COVID was a ‘scare story'