Dominic Cummings apologized for the mistakes made by the Boris Johnson government during the Covid-19 pandemic, acknowledging that he and his colleagues had disastrously failed the British public.
The former chief adviser to the Prime Minister was testifying before the all-party health and science and technology committees, chaired by former Tory ministers Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt.
Striking what appeared to be a deliberately humble tone, Cummings began his testimony by claiming that he and other advisers and ministers failed to understand the gravity of the situation in January and into February.
“The truth is, senior ministers, civil servants, advisers like me, have fallen disastrously below the standards the public has come to expect of their government in a crisis like this,” Cummings told Clark. , the chairman of the committee.
“When the public needed us most, we failed. And I would like to say to all the families of those who died needlessly, how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and my own mistakes.
Cummings’ evidence on Wednesday was under close scrutiny across Westminster, after a series of highly critical tweets in recent days in which he criticized the decisions made by his former boss and Whitehall’s preparation for a crisis.
He claimed he realized the potential gravity of the situation in Wuhan, China, in January, and read texts he sent to Health Secretary Matt Hancock on January 25 to ask him questions. questions about government pandemic preparedness.
He said Hancock reassured him that the government had a regularly updated pandemic plan ready – and that other institutions, including Public Health England and the World Health Organization, had at the time been reassuring.
But he admitted he did not press the issue then – and said Johnson continued to be unaware of the extent of the problem. “In February, the Prime Minister saw this as a scary story,” he said, suggesting Johnson compared it to swine flu.
Cummings said extraordinarily that he and other officials deliberately kept the Prime Minister out of the Cobra government emergency meetings during the early days of the crisis because they thought Johnson would shed light on the virus.
“Certainly the view of various officials inside No 10 was for the Prime Minister to chair Cobra meetings, and he just says to everyone, ‘Don’t worry, I’m going to have [England’s chief medical officer] Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV with the coronavirus, so that everyone realizes that there is nothing to be afraid of ‘, that would not, in fact, help any serious planning.
He said much of Downing Street’s attention in early February was focused on other issues, including the cabinet reshuffle, and that by mid-February several key figures were “literally skiing “.
He added: “We didn’t understand this until the end of February. “
Cummings described it as “sort of tragic” that someone who had spent so much time urging people to avoid group thinking, did not sound the alarm louder.
Clark urged Cummings to explain why he did not attend meetings of the key decision-making and advisory committees, Cobra and Sage, during the early days of the pandemic.
Cummings said he sent colleagues, including his ally Ben Warner, to some meetings and said there was no need for him to attend all of Sage’s meetings as they involved technical briefings .