Priti Patel denies UK government pursued 'herd immunity' policy in early 2020

·3-min read

London, May 23 (PTI) Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top adviser Dominic Cummings has claimed the UK government originally planned to let the coronavirus spread through the country in an attempt to build 'herd immunity', evoking a rebuttal on Sunday from Home Secretary Priti Patel.

A day after Cummings claimed that the plan of the UK government was to develop resistance in the population in the months leading up to September after the disease first emerged in early 2020, Patel replied 'absolutely not'.

The Indian-origin minister told the BBC that she would not comment on what Cummings would say ahead of his appearance in front of a parliamentary committee this week, but added 'our strategy was always about public health, saving lives and protecting the National Health Service (NHS)'.

The UK Health Security Agency chief also said allowing people to become infected 'has never been on the agenda'.

Dr Jenny Harries said she had 'never been in a government meeting where herd immunity was put forward as a mechanism of control' for the pandemic.

'But bear in mind I would not have been in most of the high-level ones as the deputy chief medical officer,' she said.

In a series of tweets on Saturday and Sunday, Cummings referred to the Johnson government's handling of COVID-19 as a 'disaster'.

Cummings was the prime minister Johnson's closest political aide, and in the room when decisions were being made early in the pandemic. But, since parting ways with his boss last November, the 49-year-old former aide has become a trenchant critic of Johnson's actions, the BBC noted.

Herd immunity happens when there are enough immune people in a population that new person-to-person transmission of infections stop.

Cummings said the 'official plan in all the documents, graphs and meetings' at the outset of the pandemic was to achieve so-called 'herd immunity' by September 2020.

'How herd immunity could have been the plan is a fundamental issue in the whole disaster', adding it was only changed after 'No 10 was made aware... it would lead to catastrophe', he said.

He also said herd immunity was not a 'secret' policy but 'official strategy' explained on TV and radio.

Apart from claiming that 'awful decisions' were made, and 'lives and money' were 'needlessly lost', he also said 'if competent people had been in charge' lockdowns in the country may have been avoided.

On Wednesday he is due to give evidence to the Commons Health and Science Select Committee about what lessons can be learned from the pandemic.

Health Security Agency chief Harries said that the term herd immunity had been 'misinterpreted'.

She said there was a difference between the widespread immunity achieved through vaccinations, and herd immunity produced by allowing the public to catch the virus naturally.

'What you're looking at in a population is to try and see at which point your population would be safe, and this is what we do with this very successful vaccination programme,' she said.

'That's not the same as saying... that the aim would be to allow people to become infected and develop herd immunity.

'That has never been on the agenda but you would always look to see how safe you can get your population through a vaccination programme,' Harries said.

Downing Street is braced for a potentially highly damaging onslaught following Cummings' acrimonious departure from Number 10 last year, according to UK media reports.

Meanwhile, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “Herd immunity has never been a policy aim or part of our coronavirus strategy.

'Our response has at all times been focused on saving lives and ensuring the NHS was not overwhelmed. We continue to be guided by the latest scientific advice,” the Guardian newspaper reported.

Prime Minister Johnson, a COVID-19 survivor, has already announced a public inquiry to learn any lessons that needed to be learned.

The UK has reported more than 4,476,200 confirmed cases and over 127,900 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker. PTI AKJ AKJ

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