Boris Johnson’s former adviser is giving evidence to MPs about the crucial early days of the pandemic.
He apologised for how he, ministers and other officials “fell disastrously short of the standards the public has a right to expect”.
But in a startling allegation about Johnson’s failures to take the virus seriously, Cummings said: “In February, the prime minister regarded this as just a scare story. He described it as the new swine flu.”
Asked if he corrected the PM, Cummings went on to reveal Johnson joke Whitty, the chief medical officer, could inject him with Covid in a bid to reassure the public.
“Certainly, but the view of various officials inside No. 10 was if we have the prime minister chairing Cobra meetings and he just tells everyone ‘it’s swine flu, don’t worry about it, I’m going to get Chris Whitty to inject me live on TV so everyone realises it’s nothing to be frightened of’ that would not help serious planning,” he said.
Cummings had begun his evidence to MPs by apologising for the government’s failures during the coronavirus pandemic.
The prime minister’s former aide said: “The truth is that senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short of the standards that the public has a right to expect of its government in a crisis like this.
“When the public needed us most the government failed.
“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.”
Cummings said he regrets that he “did not follow up” and “push” on pandemic preparations at the end of January 2020, adding that it was not until the end of February that it was realised the plans were “hollow”.
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”, he said.