London, May 23 (PTI) British Home Secretary Priti Patel on Sunday categorically denied that achieving so-called 'herd immunity' was ever the UK government's official policy at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, after allegations by Prime Minister Boris Johnson's former top aide Dominic Cummings claiming otherwise.
Cummings, who had an unceremonious exit from 10 Downing Street last year, is due to give evidence before an influential House of Commons committee hearing next week on the government's handling of the pandemic.
Ahead of that appearance before the joint Commons Health and Tech Committee meeting on Wednesday, he issued a series of tweets to allege that the UK's official policy was to let the deadly virus spread through the population and thereby achieve so-called 'herd immunity', and that it was only later realised by Downing Street that would be a 'catastrophe'.
Herd immunity happens when there are enough immune people in a population that new person-to-person transmission of infections stop.
'Absolutely not,' Patel told the BBC when confronted with the claims on Sunday.
'Our strategy was always about public health, saving lives and protecting the NHS (National Health Service),' Indian-origin minister said.
However, Cummings repeated his claims in a fresh Twitter tirade even after the official denials.
'Herd immunity was officially seen as UNAVOIDABLE week of 9/3. It wd come either a) in a single peak over by Sep, or b) in a 2nd peak in winter. (a) was seen as easier to manage & less of a catastrophe so it was Plan A,” Cummings tweeted.
'Critical as I am of the PM in all sorts of ways, it's vital to understand the disaster was not just his fault: the official plan was disastrously misconceived, DHSC/CABOFF [Department of Health and Social Care and Cabinet Office] did not understand this or why, and a PlanB had to be bodged amid total & utter chaos,' he added.
But the UK Health Security Agency chief, Dr Jenny Harries, told the BBC that allowing people to become infected 'has never been on the agenda' and that 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,' said Dr Harries.
'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. 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,' she said.
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.
Meanwhile, the NHS announced another new vaccination milestone of 60 million doses, with Saturday marking a record day with 762,361 first or second jabs being delivered.
The latest government data shows that 556,951 UK adults received a second jab on Saturday, meaning that 43 per cent of the adult population – 22,643,417 people – have now been fully vaccinated. A total of 205,410 first doses were administered, with that measurement reaching 37,943,681 people, or 72 per cent of UK adults. PTI AK ZH AKJ ZH ZH ZH