The COVID inquiry received a diary entry from the former chief scientific adviser detailing a contentious meeting where ministers and officials discussed the implementation of an additional closure.
As per a diary entry authored by Sir Patrick Vallance, the former chief scientific adviser to the government, Mr. Cummings allegedly uttered the remark in October 2020, amidst a contentious deliberation concerning the implementation of more stringent pandemic protocols.
Sir Patrick stated in the excerpt presented to the official COVID inquiry on Monday that Boris Johnson, the then-prime minister, had opposed any lockdown, stating that he was “all for letting it rip” and that those who died from contracting the virus had “put in a good innings.”
Tensions and Decisions in COVID Strategy
The chief scientist characterised Mr. Johnson during the meeting as “extremely frustrated” and “hurling documents down,” adding, “It appears that we are in an extremely difficult situation; everything is in a complete shambles. “I truly do not wish for another nationwide lockdown to occur.”
However, as stated in the entry, the prime minister was advised to “advance along this path of relinquishment.” He was told that he must inform individuals that he is prepared to permit their demise.
After the meeting, attendees agreed to “bolster” the national tier system. They also agreed to “consider a nationwide lockdown.”
“Everything feels like a complete lack of leadership,” the scientific counsel said at the COVID inquiry hearing on Monday.
Sir Patrick responded to the inquiry’s legal team’s inquiry regarding the excerpt, “It must have felt like a total failure of leadership, and after reading it, the day seems quite shambolic.”
“Risk” of Eating Out to Aid
Sir Patrick disclosed earlier in the hearing that the scientific and medical advisers of the government were not informed of Mr. Sunak’s “Eat Out To Help Out” initiative until the chancellor announced it. He stated that their assessment of the “very clear” risk of transmission would have been such.
Mr. Sunak told the commission he had no concerns about the proposal during ministerial deliberations. This includes those in which [Sir Patrick] was present.
However, Sir Patrick responded when asked about the contradiction in his own statement: “At that time, numerous measures were being introduced, and repeated references to our apprehension that individuals were amassing an increasing number of items, which would eventually cause R to exceed one, were found in numerous minutes, notes, emails, and, I am certain, in my personal notes. I believe this was also discussed at cabinet.
Thus, it should have been obvious that this change would increase transmission risk. Ministers would have been cognizant of this.
He continued, “It would be extremely surprising if any minister failed to recognise the inherent dangers of these openings.”
A Number 10 official said specific evidence would not be discussed during the investigation.
However, they stated that Mr. Sunak believed it was “vital that we learn the lessons of COVID, and that we do so in a spirit of candour and transparency,” adding that the government has continued to fully participate in the investigation and has submitted over 55,000 documents in support of their work.
Challenges and Resistance in Advising
However, the division did not seem to be confined to that particular scheme. Sir Patrick’s diaries revealed his belief that both Number 10 and the Cabinet Office excluded scientific advisers from strategy meetings.
The advisor informed the inquiry that there were times when it was evident that the unwelcome advice we were providing was, as anticipated, not appreciated; consequently, we had to exert extra effort to ensure that the scientific evidence and advice were being adequately considered.
Additionally, there were occasions when individuals would rather not hear our unfavourable evidence and recommendations.
“In response to [Mr. Hancock’s] request for a modification, I informed him that our advice would remain unchanged—that is where the evidence component becomes significant,” stated the advisor. “You must at least observe that, notwithstanding your dissent and reluctance to engage in the activity.
He further stated, “I am certain, due to the fact that politicians are politicians, that efforts were made to exert control over us and prevent us from always being granted access that we might require.”
However, I believe we were able to get through everything and ensure that the advice and evidence were considered.
Evaluation of Mr. Hancock’s Statements
When queried about his assessment of Mr. Hancock subsequent to their collaboration during the pandemic, Sir Patrick remarked, “He had a propensity to utter unfounded statements.
“He would express them prematurely and too enthusiastically, without supporting evidence, and then be forced to retract them days later.”
“I cannot determine to what degree that was intentional or due to excessive enthusiasm.” “Although I believe that much of it was overenthusiasm, there were certain things he said that surprised me, given that I was aware that the evidence was lacking.”
“Mr. Hancock has supported the investigation throughout,” stated a spokesman for the defendant. “He will provide answers to all questions when he testifies.”
Sir Patrick stated Mr. Johnson was “obviously perplexed” during their May 2020 classroom talk, casting doubt on his science skills.
Ten days later, Sir Patrick wrote that Mr. Johnson “vacillates between pessimism and optimism.” He added that Johnson was “still perplexed on various types of tests,” conceptualising them for a session before abandoning them.
An additional excerpt from June 2020 stated, “Observing the Prime Minister grapple with statistics is abhorrent.” “Relative and absolute risk are nearly incomprehensible to him.”
Additionally, a subsequent entry from the same month stated that “getting [Mr. Johnson] to comprehend” graphics was “a true struggle.”
Sir Patrick reaffirmed his response in response to the inquiry’s legal team’s questioning, citing the fact that Mr. Johnson abandoned science at the age of 15 and adding, “He did struggle with some of the concepts, and we did need to reiterate them frequently.”
However, although the senior scientist acknowledged that it could be “difficult at times to verify that he had comprehended what a specific graph or piece of data was saying,” Mr. Johnson did not possess a “unique incapability to grasp some of these concepts” and stated that such an inclination was “not uncommon among leaders in Western democracies.”