Dominic Cummings today claimed he did not ‘hit the panic button’ on the coronavirus pandemic earlier because the UK was ‘wrongly reassured’ by the World Health Organisation.
Boris Johnson’s former top aide told MPs he should have sounded the alarm sooner at the start of 2020 but ‘many institutions’ including the WHO ‘failed’ on the early question of how serious the outbreak was.
Mr Cummings also revealed that Mr Johnson held meetings last year when it was discussed whether Covid-19 had ‘escaped’ from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan and looked at whether the disease had been ‘engineered’.
It is hardly the first time the WHO has faced down criticism – including by Donald Trump back in May last year – that it was too slow to react to the Covid crisis and uncritically swallowed early reassurances given by Beijing.
Trump was also an early adopter of the lab-leak theory scorned by many until this week, when top disease expert Anthony Fauci suggested that Covid may have been created in a lab.
Mr Cummings said those reports showed the potential engineering and escape of dangerous diseases from laboratories ‘is a very important issue that needs to be addressed’.
Dominic Cummings today said he did not ‘hit the panic button’ on the coronavirus pandemic earlier because the UK was ‘wrongly reassured’ by the World Health Organisation
Mr Cummings revealed that Boris Johnson held meetings last year when it was discussed whether Covid-19 had ‘escaped’ from a laboratory in the Chinese city of Wuhan
Mr Cummings told a joint session of the health and science select committees into the Government’s handling of the crisis that ‘many institutions’ failed early on in the pandemic.
He said: ‘When it started, in January, I did think in part of my mind, “oh my goodness, is this it? Is this what people have been warning about all this time?”
‘However, at the time the PHE (Public Health England) here and the WHO (World Health Organisation) and CDC, generally speaking, organisations across the western world were not ringing great alarm bells about it then.
‘I think it is in retrospect completely obvious that many, many institutions failed on this early question.’
He added: ‘Obviously in retrospect I should have been hitting the panic button far more than I was in February.
‘I did increasingly hit the panic button as February went on but I, like most people, I think were wrongly reassured by things like the WHO and about what we were being told internally.’
Science Select Committee chairman Greg Clark challenged Mr Cummings on the claim as he said: ‘The WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern on January 30, so the WHO was not giving reassurance, quite the opposite.’
Mr Cummings replied: ‘They did say that but after the 30th of January it was not at all seen in Whitehall that there is going to be a pandemic.’
Mr Cummings was grilled over why he made changes to one of his 2019 blog posts in April 2020 to include a reference to coronaviruses.
The original blog post looked at the issue of bio-labs conducting experiments and making errors which could cause a global pandemic.
Mr Cummings said he had updated the blog post to include a lengthier section from an article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists because he believed the theory of a lab leak could become a ‘massive issue’.
He said that at the time he was ‘extremely confident’ the theory would gain prominence because he believed Donald Trump was going to raise it during the US Presidential election.
But Mr Cummings said he was ‘completely wrong’ at the time as the theory was widely rejected.
However, a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, citing a previously undisclosed US intelligence report, claimed three researchers from the Wuhan lab sought hospital care in November 2019.
The newspaper said the report – which provides fresh details on the number of researchers affected, the timing of their illnesses, and their hospital visits – may add weight to calls for a broader probe of whether the Covid-19 virus could have escaped from the lab.
Mr Cummings told the committees: ‘As you have seen in the news recently, there is now all sorts of things starting to come out from classified American sources suggesting that actually there were people ill with Covid in the Wuhan lab back in November.
‘So, I was completely wrong about the timing of this but I do think it is a very important issue that needs to be addressed.’
Mr Cummings said the lab leak theory was being actively discussed in Government in April last year.
He said: ‘Well, I went back and re-read [the article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists] but also bear in mind at the time this was an actual live issue. It is not just a sort of historical thing.
‘When I went back to Number 10 after the 12th, there were meetings in there then asking is this engineered, is it not engineered, has it escaped from the lab, has it not, what are the implications of all of this.
‘So there were meetings with the Prime Minister, the national security team and what not about that question then.
‘I obviously can’t go into any of the details about that but it was a live issue.
‘So I went back and re-read not just that piece but lots of pieces, pasting over text into a blog takes 90 seconds. It is not like this was something… it was literally something that takes a minute or so.’