According to Johnson's former top aide, the UK's COVID policy failed the public

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top adviser and Brexit architect Dominic Cummings told lawmakers on Wednesday that the British government "disastrously" failed the public by mishandling the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

According to Johnson's former top aide, the UK's COVID policy failed the public.

Cummings — a divisive figure who carved out a uniquely powerful role in Johnson's government before stepping down in December — said senior ministers and officials "completely failed" to adequately plan in an excoriating account of the crisis' early days.

Covid-19 has claimed nearly 128,000 lives in the United Kingdom, making it the world's fifth-highest official death toll, and the virus is listed on more than 152,000 UK death certificates, indicating its true scope.

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Johnson was accused by Cummings of making the coronavirus a "scare story" and of being too hesitant to impose a lockdown due to the financial implications.

He also chastised Johnson's leadership, describing the crisis as "lions led by donkeys over and over."

And he repeatedly singled out Health Secretary Matt Hancock for harsh criticism, alleging that he repeatedly lied to colleagues and should have been fired for "at least 15 or 20 things."

“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, and senior advisers like me failed miserably to live up to the standards that the public has a right to expect of their government in a crisis,” Cummings told a parliamentary committee.

He apologized to "all the families of those who died unnecessarily" after saying, "When the public needed us the most, the government failed."

Johnson responded by telling parliament that he accepted "full responsibility" but that decision-making during the pandemic was "appallingly difficult."

“I stand by my assertion that the government acted with the intent to save lives throughout... in accordance with the best scientific advice.”

Think in groups

Cummings' testimony was highly anticipated after he began attacking Johnson's coronavirus policies and financial dealings in recent weeks. Cummings was the strategist behind the "Leave" campaign in the 2016 Brexit referendum.

During hours of questioning from parliament's health and science committees, he admitted that "many, many institutions around the world failed" in their initial response to the pandemic.

However, he chastised senior UK officials for failing to recognise the gravity of the situation.

“In the middle of February, a lot of people were skiing,” Cummings said.

Officials, he claimed, were guilty of "catastrophic" groupthink, pursuing a haphazard strategy of "herd immunity" before abandoning it late when the likely death toll became clear.

In mid-March, Britain's top civil servant suggested to Johnson that he encourage gatherings to spread infections and build immunity, according to Cummings.

Cummings said the deputy cabinet secretary admitted to him that "there is no plan, we're in huge trouble," comparing the situation to a scene from the movie "Independence Day" after an alien invasion.

“Throughout January, February, and March, the prime minister's perspective was... The real danger here isn't the disease; it's the measures we take to deal with it, as well as the economic destruction that will result,” he added.

Test your eyesight

When Johnson took power in July 2019, he named Cummings as his chief adviser, assisting him in securing a landslide election victory in December.

His frequent clashes with colleagues, however, are said to have caused long-term tensions, and he left the government a year later.

When he and his family look a long cross-country trip early in the pandemic, the 49-year-old was chastised for undermining the government's lockdown message.

His defense that a lockdown-breaching drive was to test his eyesight was ridiculed by critics, and Johnson spent a lot of political capital supporting him at the time.

Despite Johnson's high spirits following successful local election results in England earlier this month, Cummings' testimony may refocus attention on his government's patchy response to the pandemic.

Johnson's government, on the other hand, has overseen a successful vaccination campaign, with more than two-thirds of adults receiving at least one dose.

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