In Brief

Dominic Cummings: No. 10 denies ‘let old people die’ claim

Boris Johnson’s advisor accused of having opposed measures to protect vulnerable during coronavirus outbreak

Reports that Dominic Cummings suggested it was just “too bad” if pensioners died as a result of the coronavirus outbreak are a “highly defamatory fabrication”, Downing Street has said.

An article in yesterday’s The Sunday Times claimed the prime minister’s chief adviser had argued against stricter social distancing measures at a  “private event” at the end of February.

What is Cummings alleged to have said?

Some of those present at the event summarised Cummings’ take on the government’s strategy as “herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”, claims The Sunday Times.

Cummings was “convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease” next winter if the prediction by England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty that 60% to 80% of the population would become infected “was right” and that these people would develop immunity as a result, says the newspaper.

There have been wider criticisms of the government for its initially slow response to contain the virus owing to an alleged initial emphasis on this strategy. The phrase “herd immunity” was used by official figures including Patrick Vallance, England’s chief scientific adviser, and David Halpern, head of the government’s influential behavioural science unit.

Halpern told the BBC that the plan was to “cocoon” the elderly and other at-risk groups from the spread of the virus.

“Communities will become immune to it and that’s going to be an important part of controlling this longer term,” Vallance told Sky News earlier this month. “About 60% is the sort of figure you need to get herd immunity.”

However, ministers have since denied that herd immunity was ever part of the government’s plan.

Meanwhile, Cummings has now become “the most outspoken advocate” of tough social distancing measures, says The Sunday Times. 

“Dominic himself had a conversion,” a senior Tory source is quoted by the newspaper as saying. “He’s gone from ‘herd immunity and let the old people die’, to ‘let’s shut down the country and the economy’.” 

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What has Downing Street said?

No. 10 has been criticised for offering anonymous briefings to favoured journalists in recent times. But Downing Street officials have gone on the record to deny the claims about Cummings, saying the Times article had not been seen in advance and contained “invented” quotes.

“This is a highly defamatory fabrication which was not put to No. 10 by The Sunday Times before publication. The article also includes a series of apparent quotes from meetings which are invented,” said a government spokesperson.

Cummings has also personally denied the allegations. Asked by Reuters on Monday morning whether he had said the quote attributed to him and whether the report was accurate, the top advisor replied: “No. Of course not. No.”

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