Cummings: UK was not prepared for Covid as 'key people were skiing'

26 May 2021, 12:24

By Fiona Jones

Dominic Cummings has said the Government was "not in any way on a war footing" in February as "lots of key people were ski-ing", with the PM on holiday for two weeks.

Former chief adviser Dominic Cummings is facing MPs questions about the Government's response to Covid-19 in the early days of the pandemic.

Boris Johnson's aide, who had a front seat to discussions about lockdown decisions, is giving his account to a joint meeting of both the Science and Technology Select Committee and the Health and Social Care Select Committee.

Live updates: Cummings: PM dismissed Covid-19 as a "scare story" one month before first lockdown

Dominic Cummings told ministers: "The Government 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 any sort of sense of urgency, I would say."

Mr Cummings told Greg Clarke MP that he was "not on the war footing" himself in the first ten days of February due the "HS2 nightmare", the Cabinet reshuffle and "then the PM went away on holiday for two weeks."

He apologised, "Obviously in retrospect I should have been hitting the panic button far more than I was in February. I did increasingly hit the panic button as February went on but I like most people was wrongly reassured by things like the WHO and what we were being told internally."

Mr Clarke pointed out that the WHO declared Covid-19 a public health emergency of international concern on 30 January, which he added was "quite the opposite" to reassurance.

"They did say that but after 30 January, it was not at all seen in Whitehall that there was going to be a pandemic," the former aide said, to which Greg Clarke responded that there were pictures "of Wuhan being sealed off and reports of peoples' doors being welded shut", leading Cummings to admit he was aware of that.

During February Dominic Cummings told ministers he was instead working on science, procurement and national security at the beginning of February.

Dominic Cummings has also attested:

  • Senior politicians and officials fell “disastrously short” of what was required of them when the pandemic broke out last year. 
  • Health Secretary Matt Hancock's claims that the UK was prepared for the pandemic were "basically completely hollow". 
  • Boris Johnson regarded Covid as a “scare story” and “the new swine flu” in February.
  • Allegedly, the PM wanted Chris Whitty to inject him with the virus live on TV to reassure people it was nothing to worry about. 
  • Mr Cummings says he sent a text message to Mr Johnson on March 12 saying “we’ve got big problems” and urging him to start imposing restrictions but admits he left these interventions “far too late.”