Johnson’s ‘Jaws’ thread resurfaces in Covid investigation
Those who attended the 2019 Pendulum Summit at the Convention Center Dublin will know Boris Johnson’s thread on the movie “Jaws”.
At the motivational speakers event, the future Prime Minister asked the audience: “Who was the real hero of Jaws?”.
After responding to several mock responses, Mr Johnson unveiled the correct answer – not the sheriff, not the shark – but the mayor. Why? Because he kept the beaches open and kept the companies in business.
The Jaws thread was part of Mr Johnson’s only transferable speech, the one he pitched on the rubber chicken circuit (2018 DUP veterans told me they’ve heard it all before: I grabbed recycled scraps at the Conservative Party conference later in 2019).
But I didn’t expect this shady story to resurface in the context of a Covid investigation.
And Dominic Cummings insisted at the Westminster Health Committee that Boris Johnson said he should have acted like the mayor of Jaws because he regretted having a lockdown and resisted having another in the fall of Last year.
And that’s when Mr Cummings said he and Boris Johnson were finally going their separate ways.
He said Johnson was more concerned with keeping the economy open – keeping companies in business – than listening to public health advice.
Among his many accusations were that Jonson did not understand the connection between taking action to protect lives, which in turn would protect the economy.
It was autumn, towards the end of Dominic Cummings’ time in Downing Street. His most bitter comment was unleashed on the government and its minions for their response at the start of the pandemic. Specifically in the week the World Health Organization declared a pandemic – March 11, 2020.
It was in the middle of the Cheltenham Racing Festival, an event attended by thousands of Irish racing fans.
Some of them fell ill with Covid-19 during the event, bringing the virus back to their communities.
Many wondered at the time why the British allowed him to move forward (with a Champions League game, where Liverpool hosted Atletico Madrid and their fans – who couldn’t watch the matches in Spain. at the time). The Irish government had banned the Ireland-Italy rugby match a fortnight earlier.
On March 12, Leo Varadkar, then Taoiseach, walked out of the Vice Presidents’ House in Washington DC to hold an unexpected press conference, outlining Ireland’s first lockdown measures.
On the same day, according to Cummings, British politicians and senior officials were at a meeting in the Cabinet Room, comparing the plan for Covid to ‘old chickenpox parties’, where people would be deliberately infected to end it.
Dominic Cummings told the committee officials and ministers are informing leading reporters that a form of expected herd immunity is still official policy, with only one peak expected in June and enough people infected to make the country effectively resistant to d ‘by September.
But he was also seeing figures suggesting that if 60% of the population were infected, between a quarter of a million and half a million of them would die from it. The health service would be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks, and they would have a few days left to develop a plan B.
Then he and a few close colleagues began drafting the now famous whiteboard that Cummings tweeted on Tuesday ahead of his appearance before MPs, one that carried the point six – “Who are we saving?”.
At that point – around 8 p.m. – Helen McNamara, Assistant Cabinet Secretary and Downing Street’s second-highest official, walked into the room and said, according to Cummings, “I’ve been told for years that he there was a plan for it (a coronavirus pandemic): there is no plan. We are in big trouble. We are completely f **** d. Thousands of people are going to die. “
Asked by Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary (and Boris Johnson’s opponent in the 2019 leadership race), whether Cummings had advised Johnson to lock down Britain on Saturday March 14, Cummings responded yes – but it’s more complicated than that.
He said there was no plan to lock down the country, no plan to seal the borders, no test and traceability plan.
Even if they wanted to lock down, they had no role model to follow, no way to explain it to the public. Cummings claims it must have been invented from scratch, starting March 14. This included plans to close pubs, restaurants, sporting events, etc.
Like an independence day scene
“It was like the Independence Day scene where Jeff Goldblum says the aliens are here and your plan isn’t working.”
It was Cummings describing a meeting on March 14 last year, in which he and his close associates broke the bad news for Boris Johnson – the assumptions on which the UK government foresaw its response to Covid-19 did. were not going to work, hundreds of thousands of people were going to die and the health service was going to shut down in a few weeks.
“It was completely surreal – like a scene from an uncontrollable movie. We should have acted sooner, but we didn’t,” Cummings said, hands on his head, his voice hesitant in regret.
As of the middle of this week, Cummings says he had started to “press the panic button” on the government’s assumptions about the pandemic and the plans it had drawn up accordingly.
According to his version, a small team of officials and advisers worked in record time to craft policies – ranging from the basics of foreclosure to funding the leave scheme (pandemic unemployment benefits).
But just as they were starting to activate politics, the Prime Minister himself came down with Covid. He was hospitalized (leaving Downing Street staff asking what they would do if Boris Johnson died).
Vaccine planning when
The only bright spot reported by Cummings was the vaccine supply plan. But even that was more of a fluke than good planning.
Luckily, the scientific director was Patrick Vallance, who had made his fortune in the private sector, working in the pharmaceutical industry, and knew the vaccine industry and the people who made vaccines.
He told Cummings that the usual public service contracting process would be too slow, that they needed one responsible person who knew the pharmaceutical industry. So they hired venture capitalist Kate Bingham, who has decades of experience investing in the industry, to handle a rapid supply.
More controversially, Cummings told the committee he had been advised by Bill Gates and others to look into new mRNA technology and use previous experience from large projects like Apollo and Manhattan (the atomic bomb ) to do a lot of work in parallel, more than in order – the normal way of public service (this is because public investment wants to see if the technologies work before funding the next phase of development: if everything was done in parallel, a failure of the technology would cost much more).
Cummings considered the risk worth taking because of the potential payoffs.
He said mRNA vaccines, like the one from BioNTech / Pfizer, were developed “within hours”. He said the risk of the virus was so great that they (the UK government) should have gone through a ‘challenge trial’ immediately.
This would have involved recruiting 10,000 volunteers – half would be vaccinated, half not. All would then be deliberately infected with Covid to see what was happening.
“If someone died, we would see their family get a million pounds or something,” Cummings told the committee. He justified this by the fact that “we could have delivered vaccines into the arms of the people certainly by last September”.
But would a government have sanctioned such a thing? None did.
This provides a glimpse into Cummings’ approach to problem-solving – an approach that reportedly finds little support from politicians and largely explains its unpopularity with many backbenchers, who are expected to carry the box if anything went seriously wrong in such a lawsuit.
But what is less well explained is its particular venom towards Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
He told the committee that Hancock should have been fired for 15 or 20 things, including lying to everyone in the cabinet room and in public.
But he gave few details on what he meant. Except for one big problem – nursing homes.
Cummings said the firm had been adamantly told that patients returning to nursing homes after hospitals would be tested for Covid before leaving. But they weren’t. It was discovered in April, when the death rate in nursing homes took an alarming turn.
Hancock will have the opportunity to respond in detail to the committee – he will be his last witness in this investigation. But he will also be under pressure ahead of this appearance, following Cummings’ tirade.
And Johnson will also come under pressure for denying in Parliament that he made a comment about letting the bodies pile up sooner than ordering another lockdown (Cummings says he heard Johnson say this in the study of the Prime Minister).
But his most devastating charge is that all the chaos and bad decisions had an overwhelming consequence: tens of thousands of people died who should not have died if the government had acted sooner by ordering a lockdown at the same time. than other governments across Europe.
As pro-government spinners try to do away with the specific accusations made by Cummings of saying “there’s nothing new in this, we’ve heard it all before,” this one will be harder to shake off.
Careful and in-depth questions from committee members, led by former ministers Greg Clarke and Jeremy Hunt, suggest that a careful report will follow.