LONDON – A former chief adviser to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson blasted the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday, arguing the response was inadequate.
Dominic Cummings, caricatured by British tabloids as an adviser to Johnson’s Svengali, was the main strategist behind the 2016 Brexit campaign and Johnson’s landslide election victory in 2019. He was questioned on Wednesday by UK lawmakers about the lessons from the pandemic.
In a meteoric attack on the government he once served, Cummings said the UK government had “let down” the public and “fell disastrously short” in its handling of Covid-19.
“The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me, have been disastrously below the standards the public has come to expect of their government in a crisis like this,” he said. he said during a testimony presented to Parliament. Special committee.
“When the public needed us most, the government failed,” he said, adding that people “died needlessly” as a result.
Cummings delivered excoriating allegations of bad decisions and false assumptions made by Johnson’s government, describing scenes of chaos in government as “like an uncontrollable movie”.
He said that at the start of 2020 the UK government “was not operating on a war footing about this in February in any way. Lots of people were literally skiing.”
Cummings said Johnson initially viewed the pandemic as “just a scary story” and said the Prime Minister at one point even suggested getting the virus injected live on television to reassure the public.
Johnson was quick to dismiss criticism from his former adviser.
He told Parliament later Wednesday that “none of the decisions were easy” and that he did not accept Cummings’ accusation that the government’s inaction led to needless deaths.
“Dealing with a pandemic of this magnitude has been terribly difficult, and we have tried at every step to minimize loss of life … and we have followed the best scientific advice possible,” he said.
The UK has recorded nearly 128,000 coronavirus deaths, among the highest in Europe. A series of lockdowns periodically shut down most of the economy, schools and workplaces.
However, a mass vaccination campaign, which began in December, drastically reduced infections and deaths and was widely hailed as a success.
Cummings – who was played by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a 2019 Brexit film – is a self-proclaimed political disruptor who has long expressed his contempt for the civil service, politicians and much of the media.
One of the architects of the successful campaign to pull Britain out of the European Union, he was appointed Senior Advisor when Johnson became Prime Minister in 2019.
Cummings himself was put in the spotlight during the pandemic when newspapers revealed he had traveled 400 kilometers across the country after contracting Covid-19 in May 2020, despite a stay-at-home order at the nationwide.
His defense – that he was seeking childcare help from loved ones in case he fell ill – has ringed hollow for many Britons who had made sacrifices and endured isolation to follow the rules.
Johnson has resisted calls to fire Cummings for flouting rules the government has imposed on the rest of the country.
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Cummings, however, quit his job in November. Images of him carrying a box of personal effects as he walked away from 10 Downing Street made headlines in many UK newspapers.
In recent days, he has used Twitter to direct a torrent of criticism against his former employer, accusing Johnson of overseeing a chaotic government.
In turn, Johnson’s Tories accuse Cummings of ignoring the fact that he was one of the most powerful people in government when key decisions were made.
During Wednesday’s testimony, Cummings apologized for not doing more to change the government’s strategy and sounding the alarm earlier on Covid-19.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. Adding, “It was completely crazy that I should have been in such a high position.”