Hancock Insists Allegations by Dominic Cummings Are 'Unsubstantiated' and 'Not True'

Peter Russell

May 27, 2021

Editor's note, 27 May 2021: This article was updated with the latest information

Health Secretary Matt Hancock rejected claims that he lied during the COVID-19 pandemic following scathing criticism of his role made by the Prime Minister's former special adviser Dominic Cummings, who said he should have been fired for lying to people on multiple occasions.

Responding to an emergency question in the Commons earlier from Labour, Mr Hancock insisted that "these unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true".

Credit: PA Media/Commons

During several hours of questioning by a joint committee of MPs on Wednesday, Mr Cummings, who departed Number 10 last November, said that Government ministers "fell disastrously short" of what the public deserved during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also said that Boris Johnson was unfit for office, "obsessed by the media", and that he had personally witnessed the PM saying he would rather see "bodies pile high" than order a third lockdown.

Mr Johnson deflected the criticism, saying today that his focus was on "taking our country forward".

Mr Hancock was firmly in the cross-hairs during Mr Cummings' testimony to the Commons Science and Technology and Health committees, in which he was accused of "criminal, disgraceful behaviour" over promises to ramp up testing in April last year. He alleged that Mr Hancock had lied during a meeting in Downing Street about testing people before they were discharged from hospital into care homes during the first wave of the pandemic.

Herd Immunity 

His central claim was that early modelling suggested that the choice faced by Government and scientific advisers lay between allowing the virus to spread within the community, resulting with a peak by September 2020, or introducing a containment strategy that would allow SARS-CoV-2 infection to peak during the winter months, when the NHS would already be at full stretch.

However, he said, a strategy to allow so-called 'herd immunity' unravelled around the 11th/12th March when it became apparent that such a policy would lead to huge mortality and overwhelm the health service.

He said Government focus was diverted at that time because of requests by Donald Trump's US administration to take military action in the Middle East, and worries by Mr Johnson's fiancée about a media story concerning the couple and their dog.

'We're Going to Kill Thousands'

Mr Cummings said that he regretted not following up on his concerns. His notes said that a change in strategy came after March 13, 2020, when the Deputy Cabinet Secretary, Helen Macnamara, walked into a No 10 meeting and said: "I think we are absolutely f****d. I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people."

The Government was not operating on a "war footing" in February 2020 as the global crisis mounted and "lots of key people were literally skiing in the middle of February".

Mr Hancock told MPs this morning: "I've been straight with people in public and in private throughout."

In his much-anticipated grilling yesterday, Mr Cummings painted a picture of chaos, indecision, and misinformation at the heart of Government during the early stages of the pandemic between January and March last year.

Boris Johnson: Evidence 'No Relation to Reality'

On a visit to Essex today, Mr Johnson said the Government had to take an "incredibly difficult series of decisions" to tackle COVID, "none of which we have taken lightly".

Asked whether he said he would rather see "bodies pile high" than order a third lockdown, Boris Johnson said: “I have already made my position very clear on that point. I’m getting on with the job of delivering the road map that I think is the sensible way forward."

Responding to claims by Mr Cummings that it was "nonsense" to say that care homes had been shielded, he insisted: "We did everything we could to protect the NHS and to protect care homes as well."

Asked to respond to claims by his former adviser that he was not fit to lead the country, Mr Johnson added that "some of the commentary I have heard doesn't bear any relation to reality" and that "what people want us to get on with is delivering the road map and trying – cautiously – to take our country forward through what has been one of the most difficult periods that I think anybody can remember".

Allegations by Dominic Cummings

Among other main points made by Mr Cummings to MPs yesterday were that:

  • "Tens of thousands of people who died didn't need to die"

  • Mr Johnson did not initially attend COBRA meetings because at first he dismissed COVID as little more than a "scare story" and that "the real danger was the economic one"

  • Mr Johnson had considered being deliberately infected with SARS-CoV-2 on live television to show it was not a major health concern

  • Mr Johnson came close to removing Mr Hancock from office in April 2020, but he did not get the sack because he could be a convenient fall guy during a future public inquiry

  • Mr Cummings' decision not to "hit the panic button" earlier was because he was "frightened" of acting because of unknown consequences

  • Government proposals for putting a shield around care homes were "complete nonsense"

  • The Government "left it too long" to set up a functioning test and trace system

  • COVID-19 vaccines could have been developed, produced, and brought to market more quickly

In his opening remarks yesterday, Mr Cummings, who was heavily criticised for taking a trip to County Durham in breach of lockdown restrictions, said: "I would like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am for the mistakes that were made and for my own mistakes at that."

The committees are due to hear evidence from Matt Hancock next month.

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