Former top adviser Dominic Cummings today branded Boris Johnson a ‘joke’ in the wake of the first Covid inquiry
Dominic Cummings today criticised his old boss Boris Johnson and branded the Prime Minister a ‘joke’ in the wake of a devastating report which laid bare the string of failures the Government has made throughout the Covid pandemic.
Speaking to Sky News outside his home, the PM’s ex chief adviser labelled No10’s system for dealing with crises a ‘disaster’.
He said: ‘The system was bad for many years before Covid. Me and others put into place work to try and improve the system in 2020 after the first wave, unfortunately the Prime Minister – being the joke that he is – has not pushed that work through.
‘Now we have a joke Prime Minister and a joke leader of the Labour Party and we obviously need a new political system.’
Mr Cummings, who has been a vocal critic of Mr and Mrs Johnson since leaving Downing Street, added: ‘Now we have a joke Prime Minister and a joke leader of the Labour party, and we obviously need a new political system.’
The report, published today by the health and science committees at the House of Commons, is the first to shine a light on the catalogue of errors made at the top of Government. It vindicated some of Mr Cummings’s criticisms.
MPs behind the probe claimed ministers were blinded by ‘groupthink’ among top scientific advisers, who wrongly wanted to manage the spread of the virus rather than suppress it. Giving evidence to politicians in the summer, Mr Cummings argued ‘false groupthink’ was prevalent in Whitehall.
The report also castigated the ‘chaotic’ performance of the £37bn test and trace system, and said early decisions on lockdowns and social distancing ranked as ‘one of the most important public health failures the UK has ever experienced’.
Meanwhile, one of the Government’s own ministers today refused to apologise 11 times for the mistakes that had led to thousands of deaths in Britain.
Stephen Barclay, who replaced Michael Gove as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in No10’s reshuffle last month, was grilled about the report and repeatedly given the opportunity to say sorry by Sky News presenter Kay Burley, but he instead dodged the chance. He even admitted he had not yet read the 151-page report.
Families of coronavirus victims today called the joint report by the health and science committees of the House of Commons ‘laughable’, with one campaigner pointing out that it ‘barely mentions the over 150,000 bereaved families’.
She added: ‘Sadly, this is what we expected, as the committee explicitly refused to speak to us or any bereaved families, instead insisting they were only interested in speaking to their colleagues and friends.’
Minister Stephen Barclay refused to apologise 11 times for the Government’s failures at the start of the pandemic when he was on Sky News today. Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who heads up the health committee in the House of Commons, has admitted he was a victim of ‘groupthink’ during his time at the Department of Health in thinking the next pandemic would be ‘like the flu’
The Oxford-educated former aide, who resigned from Downing Street after losing an internal power struggle, has repeatedly savaged the Prime Minister and his Government.
He unleashed a blizzard of complaints about his old boss during a one-hour chat with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg in July.
During the interview, Mr Cummings attacked Mr Johnson over his fitness to lead, saying he ‘doesn’t have a plan’ for Government, and accused his wife Carrie of ‘trying to appoint clowns to key positions’, as well as slamming the Covid response.
The 49-year-old was the director of Vote Leave and is widely seen as the architect of Brexit.
He was also invited to appear in front of MPs in the summer, delivering a number of bombshells including that tens of thousands had died unnecessarily because of the way Covid was handled, and accusing former Health Secretary Matt Hancock of lying to his colleagues.
What were the key findings of the first Covid report?
The UK’s first Covid inquiry was published today by MPs from the health and science committees in the House of Commons.
It revealed a catalogue of failures right up to the top of Government, and sparked anger among families who lost loved ones. Pressure is building for an independent judge-led inquiry to begin as soon as possible.
Key findings included:
- Thousands of care home residents needlessly died during the pandemic, with the elderly treated as an ‘afterthought’;
- The performance of the £37billion test and trace system was ‘chaotic’;
- Early decisions on lockdowns and social distancing ranked as ‘one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced’;
- Ministers were blinded by ‘groupthink’ among scientists, who wrongly wanted to manage the spread of the virus rather than suppress it;
- The UK’s response was too ‘narrowly and inflexibly based on a flu model’ that failed to learn lessons from Sars, Mers and Ebola;
- This was a ‘serious early error’ when other countries were taking drastic action;
- The lack of a proper test and trace system early on meant a full lockdown was ‘inevitable’ and should have come sooner;
- Decision-making was dysfunctional with the exchange of important information between public bodies ‘inadequate’;
- Death rates among black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and those with learning disabilities were unacceptably high.
Mr Cummings’ barb came after Mr Barclay was wheeled this morning to face the media in the wake of the report into the Government’s Covid response.
He said: ‘We followed, throughout, the scientific advice. We got the vaccine deployed extremely quickly, we protected our NHS from the surge of cases.’
Asked again by Ms Burley if he would say sorry in the wake of the report, Mr Barclay said: ‘Well no, we followed the scientific advice, we protected the NHS, we took the decisions based on the evidence before us.
‘But of course, we’ve always said with something so unprecedented as the pandemic, there will be lessons to learn, we’re keen to learn them.’
Also asked for an apology by LBC radio today, Mr Barclay said: ‘Well I recognise it’s devastating and my heart goes out to any family, any of your listeners where they lost a loved one.’
Families who lost loved ones to the virus have slammed the report for saying the vaccine rollout — which has jabbed more than nine in ten adults — had ‘redeemed’ many failures at the start of the crisis.
Hannah Brady, spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, said in a statement: ‘What a surprise: a committee led by the previous health secretary and which exclusively spoke to his friends in Government, found that the deaths of 150,000 people were ‘redeemed’ by the vaccine rollout.’
She added that the report ‘barely mentions’ the tens of thousands of families that lost loved ones to the virus.
Ms Brady said: ‘The report it’s produced is laughable, and more interested in political arguments about whether you can bring laptops to Cobra meetings than it is in the experiences of those who tragically lost parents, partners or children to Covid.
‘This is an attempt to ignore and gaslight bereaved families, who will see it as a slap in the face.’
Ms Brady said the report proved that a judge-led independent inquiry, which has been promised by the Government in spring, ‘must have bereaved families at its heart’.
She added: ‘That is the only way that the serious questions, like why families were told their loved ones were not fit for intensive care without medical assessment, or advised by 111 to keep their loved ones at home even in their dying moments, or why there were even more deaths in care homes in the second wave than the first, will be answered.’
Dr David Nabarro, the special envoy for Covid at the World Health Organization (WHO), said that delayed action at the start of the pandemic led to ‘suffering’.
He told Sky News: ‘What we’re learning is when you get a virus, starting to really spread in a community, the one thing that you must not do is to delay – it doesn’t help anybody.
‘And occasionally people think: ‘Well if we delay, everybody will get infected. So the problem will go away, because they’ll all be immune.’ That also doesn’t work.
‘So I think what we have to remember is: be rapid and be firm as soon as you get cases of the disease.
‘It doesn’t mean you have complete lockdown, it just means you need to be able to test and to isolate and to stop spread.’
He added: ‘If you delay, what we’re learning all over the world, is that people suffer.’
On Test and Trace, he added: ‘What we have learned in Britain, and in many other countries, is you can’t just tell people to isolate and expect them to stay at home without any kind of financial compensation.’
Dr Nabarro also called on other countries to start investigating their response to the pandemic, to ensure that ‘lessons can be learned’. He said he hoped every country would open an inquiry.
Dr David Nabarro (left), the special envoy for Covid at the World Health Organization (WHO), said today that delayed action at the start of the pandemic led to ‘suffering’. Pictured right: Mike Carr and Katie Ffolloitt-Powell of the Patient Transport Services of South Central Ambulance Services help to settle an elderly non-COVID-19 patient into a care home after moving her from hospital, near Portsmouth
The above graph shows the ten countries that have recorded the most Covid deaths. The US has registered the highest toll at 714,000 fatalities involving the virus, and the UK has the eighth highest toll at more than 137,000
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt admits he was part of ‘groupthink’ that focused on flu
A devastating report today laid bare the catalogue of failures at the top of Government at the start of the Covid crisis.
One key criticism is that ministers were subject to ‘groupthink’ among scientists in the early stages, who wanted to manage the spread of the virus rather than suppress it.
Former Health Secretary and Tory party leadership candidate Jeremy Hunt has today admitted he was also part of this ‘groupthink’ that failed to plan for the pandemic.
He told Good Morning Britain that the country should have locked down earlier.
He said: ‘The Prime Minister is of course ultimately responsible, but some of the advice that he got was also wrong.’
He added: ‘There was a groupthink that the way you tackle a pandemic should be similar to a flu pandemic, I was part of that groupthink too when I was Health Secretary.
‘In fact, you know, during that period, an American university said we were the second-best prepared country in the world. We know that clearly wasn’t the case.’
He said countries ‘that have direct experience of SARS and MERS were the ones who responded best in the first half of the pandemic’.
Asked whether Mr Johnson refused to shutdown the country in the early stages because he thought it would be ‘unpopular’, Mr Hunt said that ‘every Prime Minister’s personality matters but in this particular case, on those particular decisions, he was following the scientific advice, and the question we have to ask is why across the whole of the system in those early months, everyone was advising the wrong approach?’
Some 8.1million Britons have tested positive for the virus since the pandemic began — with thousands more cases likely undiagnosed due to a shortage of tests in the first half of last year.
More than 137,000 Covid deaths within 28 days of being diagnosed with the virus have also been recorded, with the bulk happening during the second wave in January. There have been more than 150,000 death certificates that mention the virus.
The UK has the eighth highest Covid death toll in the world, and the highest in Europe.
The US (714,055 Covid deaths), Brazil (601,213), India (450,963), Mexico (282,227), Russia (213,522), Peru (199,703) and Indonesia (142,716) are the only countries to have recorded more fatalities.
Mr Johnson said earlier this year that he took ‘full responsibility for everything that has happened’.
The Prime Minister added he was ‘truly sorry for the suffering the people of this country have experienced’.
He has also promised to open a full inquiry into ministers’ handling of the pandemic.
Layla Moran MP, who chairs the All-Parliamentary Group on Coronavirus, said today: ‘This report is no substitute for the full public inquiry this Government has promised.
‘The Government must now commit to releasing interim findings from this inquiry before the next general election.’
Jeremy Hunt and Greg Clark, the Tory MPs who chair the two committees, said that while the vaccine drive had been ‘boldly planned and effectively executed’ there were also ‘big mistakes’.
One was that hospitals discharged patients into care homes without testing them for the virus because officials were focused on ‘protecting the NHS’.
The report describes Covid as a ‘scourge of the elderly’ and says over-80s were 70 times more likely to die than those aged under 40. Yet in the first month of lockdown around 25,000 patients were discharged into care homes without being checked for Covid.
This had the devastating impact of ‘seeding’ the disease among the vulnerable. Almost one in four people who died from Covid lived in a care home, with 41,675 residents succumbing to the virus up until this May.
The report notes: ‘The UK was not alone in suffering significant loss of life in care homes, but the tragic scale of loss was among the worst in Europe and could have been mitigated.’
This rapid discharge of people from hospitals into care homes ‘led to many thousands of deaths which could have been avoided’.
The inquiry also says Covid-19 exposed decades of underfunding and neglect of the entire social care system.
Extending to 151 pages, the report draws on evidence from former health secretary Matt Hancock, chief scientist Sir Patrick Vallance and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.
It makes 38 recommendations. The delay in imposing the first lockdown stemmed from flawed advice from scientific advisers, the report finds. Ministers felt ‘unable to challenge’ members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies even as it became clear a catastrophe was unfolding.
The UK’s response was also ‘severely hampered’ by the ‘slow, uncertain, and often chaotic performance’ of the test, trace and isolate system.
This was partly because NHS Test and Trace was established only when daily infections had risen to 2,000, with the result that it ‘ultimately failed in its stated objective to prevent future lockdowns despite vast quantities of taxpayers’ money being directed to it’.
Test and Trace was set up in May last year with a budget of £22billion. Since then it has been allocated £15billion more – £37billion over two years.
MPs brand the decision to stop community testing in March 2020 a ‘serious mistake’ and a ‘seminal failure’ because it meant officials were no longer able to track the spread of the virus.
However, the report notes that the UK ‘outperformed’ other countries with the development and rollout of vaccines and trials of treatments.
Caroline Abrahams of the charity Age UK said: ‘Social care was something of an afterthought during the early terrifying months of Covid.
‘Tens of thousands died as a result, leaving their families wondering whether their loved ones could have been saved if we had been better prepared as a nation, and more savvy in government about the role and capability of this vital public service.’
Chaand Nagpaul, chairman of the British Medical Association, criticised ministers for delays while the virus was ‘spiralling out of control’.
Jonathan Ashworth, Labour’s health spokesman, described the errors as ‘monumental’, adding: ‘At every step ministers ignored warnings, responded with complacency and were too slow to act.’
A Government spokesman said: ‘Throughout the pandemic we have been guided by scientific and medical experts and we never shied away from taking quick and decisive action to save lives and protect our NHS, including introducing restrictions and lockdowns.
‘We are committed to learning lessons from the pandemic and have committed to holding a full public inquiry in spring.’
Report blasts ministers for failing to lockdown sooner after following flawed advice
By Eleanor Hayward for the Daily Mail
Ministers failed to challenge flawed advice from Government scientists which allowed Covid to rip through Britain, the damning inquiry concluded.
Today’s report said the UK’s failure to lock down early enough stemmed from ‘false groupthink’ among members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
In a devastating verdict, the report insisted the deadly delay in imposing the first national lockdown was ‘because of the official scientific advice the Government received, not in spite of it’.
It added that an ‘over-reliance on specific mathematical models’ – many of which were later proved to be wildly inaccurate – was a key factor in the UK’s disastrous response to Covid.
In the early days of the pandemic Boris Johnson consistently stuck to the mantra that his Government was ‘following the science’.
The inquiry found that Ministers failed to challenge flawed advice from Government scientists which allowed Covid to rip through Britain. Pictured: Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty (L) and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance (R) look on as Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson hold one of the daily press conferences to address the nation in March last year
However, the inquiry suggests much of this early advice from Sage was wrong – but ministers ‘felt it was difficult to challenge the views of their official scientific advisers’.
On March 12, 2020, chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told a Government news conference it was not possible or desirable to stop everyone being infected.
And at a Sage meeting the next day – ten days before lockdown – members were ‘unanimous that measures seeking to completely suppress spread of Covid-19 will cause a second peak’.
The report said: ‘Modelling at the time suggested that to suppress the spread of Covid-19 too firmly would cause a resurgence when restrictions were lifted.’
It criticised a ‘degree of groupthink’ which meant that ‘during this period Government policy did not deviate from the scientific advice it received in any material respect’.
The report said that in the days leading up to the first lockdown ministers and advisers ‘experienced simultaneous epiphanies that the course the UK was following was wrong, possibly catastrophically so.’
Sage only recommended a full lockdown when a study led by Professor Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said an unmitigated epidemic could result in 510,000 UK deaths.
MPs said it was ‘astonishing’ this had taken so long when most other nations had already imposed stay-at-home orders.
The report also criticised Sage for promoting the idea it would be difficult to persuade Britons to stay at home, noting: ‘It transpired that the UK public were very compliant with the eventual lockdown measures.’
Both former chief aide to the PM, Dominic Cummings, and ex-health secretary Matt Hancock told the inquiry they felt unable to challenge a ‘scientific consensus’ as it became clear a catastrophe was unfolding.
Mr Hancock said: ‘I bitterly regret that I did not over-rule that scientific advice at the start.’ The report stressed: ‘Science proceeds through challenge and disputation…Yet ministers and other advisers reported that they felt it difficult to challenge the views of their official scientific advisers.
‘Those in Government have a duty to question and probe the assumptions behind any scientific advice given, particularly in a national emergency, but there is little evidence sufficient challenge took place.’
The MPs on the committee were also highly critical of the mathematical models produced by members of Sage. The inquiry said evidence suggests ‘mathematical modelling was playing too influential a role in UK scientific advice’ as the models came with significant limitations and often failed to take into account real-world observations.
The report noted: ‘Despite this, throughout the pandemic, detailed modelled projections have evidently had great influence on Government decisions.’
Since the pandemic began, members of Sage have been under fire for gloomy predictions which were later proved wrong.
Only last month, they published modelling suggesting there could be between up to 7,000 hospital admissions a day in mid-October. In reality, daily admissions are currently averaging just 736.
Other prominent members of Sage, including Professor Ferguson, also claimed that cases could reach 200,000 a day over summer when cases actually peaked at around 50,000.
Criticising the ‘groupthink’ among members of Sage, the report noted that all but one of the 87 members are from UK institutions.
It said: ‘For a virus that has affected every country in the world and which was experienced first by other countries, it is also right to consider whether our scientific advisory bodies are sufficiently international.’
Yesterday Sir Patrick defended his actions, telling BBC Radio 4: ‘Science informs – it doesn’t decide and it doesn’t lead the way.’
UK played leading role in saving lives
ByShaun Woollerand Eleanor Hayward For The Daily Mail
The report concluded that the vaccine programme was ‘one of the most stunning scientific achievements in history’ and that it ‘redeemed’ many of the UK’s other policy failings. Pictured: Professor Andrew Pollard receives the AZ vaccine in January
Britain led the world on vaccine development and medical research throughout the pandemic – saving millions of lives globally, the report concluded.
MPs said the jab vaccine programme was ‘one of the most stunning scientific achievements in history’ and that it ‘redeemed’ many of the UK’s other policy failings.
They praised the ‘boldly planned and effectively executed’ project that meant Britain was the first Western country to roll out a vaccine against Covid-19.
Putin’s spies ‘stole details of AstraZeneca vaccine’
Russian spies stole secret blueprints on the Oxford- AstraZeneca vaccine so President Putin could claim his country produced the world’s first Covid-19 jab, it is claimed.
They were said to have targeted early human trials and taken key documents – and possibly even a vial of the vaccine – which was then used to produce the Sputnik V jab, say security sources.
Experts noted startling similarities between the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and Sputnik V, triggering an investigation by UK spy chiefs.
Security Minister Damian Hinds would only say it was a ‘fair assumption’ that foreign states, such as Russia, were seeking to obtain ‘sensitive information’ but biosecurity expert Colonel Hamish de Bretton-Gordon said: ‘Attempting to steal western technology saves the Russians time and money. Enhanced security at labs is necessary.’
The theft took place after a wave of cyber-attacks on Oxford University in March 2020.
The first human tests by Oxford-AstraZeneca came in April. In May Russia claimed it had invented its own vaccine.
The report said it was a ‘masterstroke’ to bring in Dame Kate Bingham, a venture capitalist, as head of the newly-established Vaccine Taskforce in May 2020.
It said the Government quickly ‘identified that a vaccine would be the route out of the pandemic’ and invested heavily in development, providing £20million to fully fund clinical trials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.
The report praised an ‘aggressive’ approach that meant the UK had secured agreements for more than 300million vaccine doses by November last year.
It said the UK’s medical regulator adopted an ‘agile and innovative’ approach of constantly reviewing trial data so vaccines could be deployed as soon as possible.
This meant Britain was the first Western country to approve a vaccine and, on December 8 last year, 91-year-old Margaret Keenan, from Coventry, became the first person in the world to receive a Covid-19 jab outside of a clinical trial.
The report concluded: ‘The UK vaccination programme – from discovery of potential vaccines against Covid-19 to the vaccination of nearly 80 per cent of the adult population by 1 September 2021 – has been one of the most successful and effective initiatives in the history of UK science and public administration.
‘Millions of lives will ultimately be saved as a result of the global vaccine effort, in which the UK has played a leading part.
‘In the UK alone, the successful deployment of effective vaccines has allowed, as at September 2021, a resumption of much of normal life, with incalculable benefits to people’s lives.’
The MPs also praise the ‘decisive and courageous’ decision taken by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation to extend the gap between doses to 12 weeks.
This allowed the 15million most vulnerable adults to receive their first dose by February 15.
The NHS mass vaccine rollout was hugely successful and outshone the efforts of almost all other nations, the report said.
It also praised British scientists for ‘outperforming’ other countries in finding treatments for virus victims.
In particular, the RECOVERY trial, led by Oxford University, identified dexamethasone as the first effective treatment for Covid-19 – saving millions of lives around the world.
Meanwhile an antibody treatment developed by AstraZeneca has shown its ability to both prevent and treat Covid-19.
The firm submitted a request to the US Food and Drug Administration last week for emergency use authorisation for AZD7442.
Data released yesterday by AstraZeneca showed it was effective in preventing severe disease in non-hospitalised patients with mild to moderate coronavirus, when compared with a placebo.
Most of the 903 people in the study were at high risk of progression to severe Covid-19.
Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine at University College London, and lead researcher on the trial, said AZD7442 could play an important role in the pandemic.