Civil servants ‘wanted to delay Covid lockdown announcement because they did not work weekends’, claims Dominic Cummings
Dominic Cummings claimed Whitehall officials wanted to delay ‘stay at home’ guidance at the start of the Covid crisis because they did not work weekends, it has been revealed.
In WhatsApp messages between Mr Cummings and then prime minister Boris Johnson, recently published by the Covid inquiry, the Cabinet Office was described as ‘terrifyingly s***’.
Mr Cummings, who was Mr Johnson’s chief adviser at the time, also appeared to be scathing of the response of Sir Mark Sedwill, then head of the civil service, to the looming crisis.
The controversial aide claimed Sir Mark ‘hasn’t a scooby what’s going on’, as he urged Mr Johnson to take immediate action on imposing social distancing measures in early March 2020.
The extracts of the WhatsApp messages were published among evidence being considered by the Covid inquiry, which is examining the Government’s handling of the pandemic.
Dominic Cummings claimed Whitehall officials wanted to delay ‘stay at home’ guidance at the start of the Covid crisis because they did not work weekends
In a message before 8am on Thursday 12 March 2020, Mr Cummings warned Boris Johnson about ‘big problems’ with civil servants in the Cabinet Office
In later WhatsApp messages the same morning, Mr Cummings told Mr Johnson he needed to chair daily Covid meetings in the Cabinet room without the input of devolved leaders
In a message before 8am on Thursday 12 March 2020, Mr Cummings warned Mr Johnson about ‘big problems’ with civil servants in the Cabinet Office.
He referred to other Number 10 special advisers, including Ben Warner, Lee Cain and James Slack, as having to ‘drive and direct’ Whitehall’s response to the Covid crisis.
Mr Cummings also told Mr Johnson that Britain was facing between 100,000 to 500,000 deaths as a result of Covid, which he compared to the around 250,000 who died in the Spanish flu pandemic.
He wrote: ‘We got big problems coming. CABOFF is terrifyingly s***, no plans, totally behind pace, me and Warners and lee/slcaky are having to drive and direct.
‘Mark is out to lunch — hasnt a scooby whats going on and his own officials know he doesnt. We must announce TODAY — not next week — “if feel ill with cold/flu stay home”.
‘Some CABOFF want delay cos havent done the work and dont work weekends. We must force the pace today, we are looking at 100-500 thousand deaths betweeen optimistic / pessimistic scenarios. 1918 was 250k for comparison.’
In later WhatsApp messages the same morning, just after 11am, Mr Cummings told Mr Johnson he needed to chair daily Covid meetings in the Cabinet room without the input of leaders of devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
‘You need to chair daily meetings in the Cabinet room — not COBRA — on this from tomorrow, im going to tell the system this,’ Mr Cummings wrote.
‘NOT with DAs on the f****** phone all the time either so people cant tell you the truth.’
Later on 12 March 2020, Mr Johnson used an afternoon Downing Street press conference to announce the UK Government was moving from a ‘contain’ to ‘delay’ stage of its response to Covid.
The then PM warned of the ‘worst public health crisis for a generation’.
He added: ‘From tomorrow, if you have coronavirus symptoms, however mild – either a new continuous cough or a high temperature – then you should stay at home for at least 7 days to protect others and help slow the spread of the disease.’
Britain moved to a full lockdown, with everyone ordered to ‘stay at home’, on 23 March 2020.
The Covid inquiry has so far held public hearings on its four active modules, which are examining the UK’s resilience and preparedness; core decision-making and political governance; the impact of Covid on healthcare systems across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and vaccines and therapeutics.
The inquiry continues.
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