Jeremy Corbyn Says Government Discussed Herd Immunity At 'Bizarre' Early Covid Briefing

The ex-Labour leader says he was invited to a lecture at the Cabinet Office in the initial stages of the coronavirus pandemic.
Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn
Former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn

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The government has again denied it attempted a “herd immunity” strategy in the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis after fresh claims made by Jeremy Corbyn.

The former Labour leader has said he was invited to a government briefing on the virus earlier this year, when he was still leader of the opposition.

He said it consisted of a “lecture” on herd immunity – an approach that allows a population to build up resistance to a disease by allowing more people to contract it – which he branded “absurd”.

Speaking to author Grace Blakeley’s new podcast A World To Win, he said: “I distinctly remember [shadow health secretary] Jon Ashworth and I going to a meeting at the Cabinet Office where we got a lecture about herd immunity.

“The last time I discussed herd immunity had been when I worked on a pig farm 40 years ago. It was absurd: that you’d build up herd immunity by allowing people to die. And so, while the government was going into eugenic formulas of discussing all this stuff, they were not making adequate preparations.”

The former Labour leader said that “many people lost their lives needlessly because of government policy” and a lack of preparedness.

Corbyn was succeeded as Labour leader by Keir Starmer in April.

The government flatly denied herd immunity was its strategy.

“It is categorically wrong to suggest herd immunity was the government’s aim,” a spokesperson said on Wednesday. “Our goal is to reduce the impact of coronavirus – protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring our NHS and social care system has capacity to cope while leading the world on scientific research into therapeutics and a vaccine.”

The government’s chief scientific officer Patrick Vallance had openly discussed herd immunity as a concept, but later apologised and said it had never been the government’s actual plan.

Speaking to the Commons’ health committee in May, he said: “I should be clear about what I was trying to say, and if I didn’t say this clearly enough then I apologise.

“What I was trying to say was that, in the absence of a therapeutic, the way in which you can stop a community becoming susceptible to this is through immunity, and immunity can be obtained by vaccination, or it can be obtained by people who have the infection.”


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