UK government ministers and officials believed that herd immunity was an “inevitability” as it was not possible or desirable to completely suppress the spread of coronavirus in the early stages of the pandemic, Dominic Cummings told MPs.
The former advisor to the prime minister said by mid-March 2020, measures to contain the spread of the virus would only delay the peak until winter, when the NHS would suffer further devastation under its usual seasonal pressures.
Mr Cummings told the House of Commons health and science committees that it wasn’t until mid-March that he insisted on the need for a new plan to prevent a disaster.
“The entire plan was based on the assumption that there is a certainty that there will be no vaccines in 2020,” said Cummings.
“So the logic was that you can either have it – if it’s not constrained, it will happen and there will be a sharp climax like this that will completely flood everything and a great catastrophe.
“The logical approach is therefore to put in place measures that delay the arrival of this peak and push it below the capacity of the health system.”
He said when examples like the strict lockdowns in the Chinese city of Wuhan and elsewhere in Asia were raised, the “overall assumption” at Whitehall was that they would not work in the UK and would lead to second peaks later.
It was also seen as “inconceivable that the UK public would accept Wuhan-style action here”.
“So we actually only have one real choice between ‘a peak and herd immunity by September” – terrible, but then you will have made it to next winter. If you try to smooth it now, that second peak will come in winter, that is worse than summer. As terrible as the numbers look in summer, the numbers will be even worse when that happens in October, November and December. “
He said he was “completely baffled” why No. 10 tried to deny that herd immunity was the official plan earlier last year.
“It’s not that people thought this was a good thing and we actively want it, it’s that it’s an utter inevitability and the only real question – it’s a question of timing, it’s either herd immunity.” until September or herd immunity until January then a second high point. That was the acceptance by Friday, March 13th. “
When asked if he had told the Prime Minister that the advice from Sage’s Scientific Advisory Board was wrong after its March 5th meeting, Mr Cummings said, “No, I haven’t.”
But he said he was ringing alarm bells and had “growing panic” about the strategy.
“For the first 10 days of March, I was increasingly told, ‘I think this is going wrong,’ but I was also very, very concerned about putting my hand on a massive button that said ‘Dig the Official Plan’ to beat. ”
Mr Cummings said he is pushing for the government to announce that individuals should stay home if they have had symptoms and that households should be quarantined on March 11th.
He realized that “the system is basically delaying the announcement of all these things because there is no real plan”.
It was a “catastrophic mistake” if the reflections of the wise men were kept secret, he said.
From March 11-12, 2020, “we were already going terribly wrong,” said Cummings.
Eventually a change of course was agreed and on March 16 the Prime Minister announced that it was time to stop non-essential travel and contacts. The first lockdown begins on March 23rd.