background_fid (1).jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Ex-Johnson Adviser Paints Devastating Picture Of Britain's Pandemic Response

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Pandemic conditions in the U.K. have improved a lot, but the coronavirus has killed about 128,000 people there, which makes for a death rate so severe in the U.K. that it's a little higher even than the death rate in the United States. Critics of the pandemic response by Prime Minister Boris Johnson include one of his former top advisers. Here's NPR's Frank Langfitt.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: The former adviser, Dominic Cummings, told a parliamentary committee yesterday that mistakes by Johnson's government led to tens of thousands of deaths. Cummings said initially Johnson dismissed the coronavirus as a scare story, and others in his government didn't appreciate its deadliness.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DOMINIC CUMMINGS: The Cabinet secretary said, Prime Minister, you should go on TV tomorrow and explain to people the herd immunity plan and that it's like the old chicken pox parties. We need people to get this disease because that's how we get herd immunity by September. And I said, Mark, you've got to stop using this chicken pox analogy. It's not right. And he said, why? And Ben Warner said, because chicken pox is not spreading exponentially and killing hundreds of thousands of people.

LANGFITT: Ben Warner's a data scientist and government adviser. Cummings also said Johnson resisted lockdowns because he feared damaging the economy and said he would rather see, quote, "bodies pile high" than put the country into a third one.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUMMINGS: The version that the BBC reported was accurate.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And you heard that.

CUMMINGS: I heard that in the prime minister's study.

LANGFITT: Cummings concluded that Johnson was out of his depth.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CUMMINGS: Fundamentally, I regarded him as unfit for the job, and I was trying to create a structure around him to try and stop what I thought were extremely bad decisions and push other things through against his wishes.

LANGFITT: Confronted with the accusations in Britain's House of Commons yesterday, Johnson said he thought Britons weren't interested.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRIME MINISTER BORIS JOHNSON: What the people of this country want us all to do is to get on with the delicate business now of trying to reopen our economy, restore people's freedoms, get back to our way of life by rolling out the vaccine.

LANGFITT: Such public accusations would be fatal to many politicians, but polls show most people distrust Cummings. And Johnson has proven to be Teflon throughout his career. Frank Langfitt, NPR News, London.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "RIDDLE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.