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Covid UK: Boris Johnson’s decision to avoid lockdown in September was ‘catastrophic’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to avoid imposing a circuit-breaker lockdown back in September was ‘catastrophic’ and warns talk of ‘Freedom Day’ tomorrow is ‘premature’ as the ‘pandemic is far from over’, according to a senior member of SAGE. 

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust charity, says the Government’s scientific advisory group met on September 21 last year and recommended ‘a package of interventions’ to reverse the ‘exponential’ surge in cases which followed the easing of restrictions last summer.

The measures including a short lockdown, known as a ‘circuit-breaker’, restrictions on the economy such as the closure of hospitality businesses and gyms and continued work from home, draconian bans on households mixing except for those in support bubbles, and a move to online university and college learning, Sir Jeremy says.

An accompanying paper summarising the impact of various restrictions noted that ‘not acting now to reduce cases will result in a very large epidemic with catastrophic consequences in terms of direct Covid-related deaths and the ability of the health service to meet needs’, he adds.

However, the Prime Minister’s refusal to impose a short lockdown in September allowed the epidemic to ‘continue its upward trajectory’ and ‘fostered the conditions for the arrival and then the domination of new variants’, Sir Jeremy claims. 

In an extract from his new book Spike: The Virus vs. The People – the Inside Story, which is being serialised by the Times and the Sunday Times, he says the Government ‘had no excuse’ for not imposing restrictions earlier, claiming ‘data was clearly showing the epidemic was climbing, week after week after week’ and that ‘we knew what a lockdown could achieve’.  

Sir Jeremy accuses Cabinet ministers of trying to rescue the economy which it devastated during the pandemic ‘at the cost of [Covid] lives and health’ – a policy he branded ‘misguided’. He also claims Mr Johnson told former No10 aide Dominic Cummings that lockdowns were ‘bulls***t’ and had said: ‘I wish I’d been the mayor in Jaws and kept the beaches open.’  

He adds: ‘The missteps are clear: the decision on September 21 not to introduce a circuit-breaker; the wait until November before locking down; the premature lifting of lockdown on December 2. These set the scene for what can only be described as the carnage of January and February 2021. 

‘The loss of life in that short period dwarfed the first wave in spring last year. Tragedy is too mundane a word to describe what happened: many of these deaths were preventable.’

The Wellcome Trust director has now warned that talk of ‘Freedom Day’ tomorrow is ‘premature’ as he claims the ‘pandemic is far from over’ and urges the Government to donate vaccines to poorer countries, arguing: ‘Nobody is safe until we all are.’

MailOnline has contacted Downing Street for comment. 

As plans to scrap most remaining legal restrictions on social contact in England tomorrow fall into disarray amid surging virus cases, it emerged:   

  • Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are to avoid going into self-isolation despite close contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has Covid, Downing Street confirmed today;
  • Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian ‘Freedom Day’ event at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections;
  • The UK moved closer to the previous peak of 68,000 daily cases, recorded in January, with infections reaching 54,674;
  • Figures also showed 740 patients had been admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 41 deaths were reported;
  • A total of 67,956 people had their first vaccine and 188,976 their second, bringing the number of fully vaccinated people to 35,732,297 – or 67.8 per cent of all adults.
  • Mr Javid became embroiled in a row with Mr Sunak over plans for a £10 billion-a-year ‘health tax’ to clear the backlog of operations and fund care for the elderly, with sources telling the Mail on Sunday that Mr Johnson had asked Mr Javid to pressure the Chancellor to impose the levy;
  • Prince Charles has told aides that he will wear a mask only when Government advice dictates that he should do so;
  • Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government may have to reimpose lockdown if Covid cases continue to rise, adding: ‘The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’;
  • The Olympic athletes’ village in Tokyo recorded its first Covid case, prompting fears for the Games. 

Wellcome Trust director Sir Jeremy Farrar

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to avoid imposing a circuit-breaker lockdown back in September was ‘catastrophic’ and warns talk of ‘Freedom Day’ tomorrow is ‘premature’ as the ‘pandemic is far from over’, according to senior SAGE member Sir Jeremy Farrar

Sir Jeremy also claimed Mr Johnson told former No10 aide Dominic Cummings that lockdowns were 'bulls***t' and had said: 'I wish I'd been the mayor in Jaws and kept the beaches open'

Sir Jeremy also claimed Mr Johnson told former No10 aide Dominic Cummings that lockdowns were ‘bulls***t’ and had said: ‘I wish I’d been the mayor in Jaws and kept the beaches open’

The UK moved closer to the previous peak of 68,000 daily cases, recorded in January, with infections reaching 54,674

The UK moved closer to the previous peak of 68,000 daily cases, recorded in January, with infections reaching 54,674

Figures also showed 740 patients had been admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 41 deaths were reported

Figures also showed 740 patients had been admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 41 deaths were reported

The Wellcome Trust director has warned that talk of 'Freedom Day' tomorrow - when most remaining legal curbs on social contact are to be ditched - is 'premature' as he claims the 'pandemic is far from over'. Pictured: Bournemouth beach yesterday

 The Wellcome Trust director has warned that talk of ‘Freedom Day’ tomorrow – when most remaining legal curbs on social contact are to be ditched – is ‘premature’ as he claims the ‘pandemic is far from over’. Pictured: Bournemouth beach yesterday

Tomorrow morning, most Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted across England, although governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are re-opening at a slower pace

Tomorrow morning, most Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted across England, although governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are re-opening at a slower pace

PM and Chancellor sidestep quarantine after Javid catches Covid 

Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are to avoid going into self-isolation despite close contact with Sajid Javid, who has Covid.

The Health Secretary triggered fears of a disruptive ‘pingdemic’ striking at the heart of Government after reveling yesterday he has tested positive. 

Mr Javid had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

But this morning No10 said Mr Johnson would take advantage of a pilot scheme not widely available tot he public to avoid going into isolation. 

‘The Prime Minister and Chancellor have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid’, a spokesman said.

‘They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street. 

‘They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.’ 

In the book extract, Sir Jeremy says opposition to a circuit-breaker in lockdown stemmed from the Cabinet’s so-called ‘economic hawks’, ‘ideological’ anti-lockdown Tory backbenchers and ‘other scientists offering different opinions’.

The Wellcome Trust director says the Great Barrington Declaration – which proposed collective immunity rather than shutdowns to manage the virus – was ‘dangerous’ and ‘ideology masquerading as science and the science was still nonsense’.

He adds: ‘Nonetheless, conflicting expert opinions serve a useful purpose, as they do in climate research: they allow politicians and others, sometimes even scientists themselves, to pick a worldview that suits an ideological bias.’ 

Sir Jeremy is now warning against rushing to ease restrictions from tomorrow, claiming that though the vaccines have ‘weakened’ the link between infection and severe illness, ‘it is not yet, however, broken’.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he argues: ‘The virus continues to circulate in this country at high levels, as it does globally. It is essential that we are cautious as restrictions are lifted, and that we act responsibly and considerately; as individuals and as a nation.’

He also calls for the wearing of facemasks in public spaces, work from home ‘if possible’ and ‘respecting the test and isolation system’ in order to protect the frail and clinically vulnerable after July 19.

Mr Johnson’s former special advisor Mr Cummings launched another attack on the Prime Minister’s handling of the crisis last night.

Responding to reports that he urged Mr Johnson to lock-down in September, he laid the blame of the autumn surge ‘all on him’.

He said on Twitter: ‘Yes, that’s exactly what happened. And remember, which much of media seems not to realise, many will swear under oath that what I’ve said is true including people who work <50m from PM today… Wave1 was system failure, can’t blame PM for all, but Autumn/delta is all on him…’.

Mr Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow were in complete disarray today amid a pulsating row over ‘Freedom Day’.

The Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies. Meanwhile public transport has also been hit, with parts of the London Underground forced to shut yesterday due to a lack of staff.

But at the same time leading public health officials from across the UK warned that tomorrow’s great unlocking in England – while other home nations take more cautious routes from lockdown – risked ‘letting Covid rip’.

The Mail on Sunday today revealed that Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian launch of Freedom Day after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections.

Officials had discussed marking the lifting of Covid restrictions with a rousing speech by the Prime Minister at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader – until scientific advisers took fright at the recent climb in cases.

Mr Johnson has abandoned his previously bullish attitude to tomorrow’s ditching of most restrictions – including social distancing and legal limits on gatherings – and is no longer referring to the moment as ‘irreversible’.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday described the situation as ‘very serious’, and raised the prospect of another lockdown this autumn.

Mr Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if cases were still rising in September, ‘I think we are going to have to reconsider’.

He added the NHS dashboard’s warning light ‘is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’, although he admitted he was hopeful that enough people have had either the virus or vaccine for the country to be approaching herd immunity.  

Boris Johnson walking out of No 10 Downing Street in London, July 14, 2021

Boris Johnson walking out of No 10 Downing Street in London, July 14, 2021

Hospitalisations with the disease also spiked 30.4 per cent to 740 on July 13 - the latest date data is available for

Hospitalisations with the disease also spiked 30.4 per cent to 740 on July 13 – the latest date data is available for

SAGE estimated England's R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, down from last week's figure of between 1.2 and 1.5

SAGE estimated England’s R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, down from last week’s figure of between 1.2 and 1.5

People wear masks at Waterloo Station on July 4, 2021 in London

People wear masks at Waterloo Station on July 4, 2021 in London

Boris and Rishi’s ‘health tax’ war: PM ‘is plotting’ with his new Health Secretary to bounce the Chancellor into £10bn-a-year spending spree to tackle social care and the NHS backlog 

Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are at loggerheads over plans for a new £10 billion-a-year ‘health tax’ to clear the NHS Covid backlog and fund reforms to care for the elderly.

Treasury sources accuse Mr Johnson of using new Health Secretary Sajid Javid to ‘gang up on’ Mr Sunak over the new levy.

They even claim that when Mr Javid was appointed, he was told by the Prime Minister that joining forces with him against the Chancellor was a condition of his employment.

Mr Sunak – the favourite to succeed Mr Johnson when he eventually leaves Downing Street – fears that his ambitions will be damaged if he is bounced by No 10 into raising taxes.

But Mr Javid, who replaced disgraced Matt Hancock last month, has told allies that as ‘the UK has maxed out its credit card’, the NHS backlogs and social care reforms can only be tackled with new taxes.

A Government source said: ‘The plan had been for Boris to effectively declare victory over the virus by summoning the spirit of Churchill, with appropriately stirring rhetoric. That no longer feels appropriate.’

Despite the relaxation in rules, the official guidelines still advise that facemasks should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.

Mr Johnson published a biography of Churchill, writing that ‘he alone saved our civilisation’.

Critics detected an attempt to draw parallels with his predecessor when the Prime Minister described him as ‘a thoroughgoing genius’ although ‘there were too many Tories who thought of him as an unprincipled opportunist’.

On Friday, the UK recorded more than 50,000 daily cases of Covid for the first time since mid-January and that tally is soon expected to pass the previous peak of 68,000.

Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients admitted to hospital and 41 deaths.

But vaccination rates are slowing, with 67,956 people having their first dose on Friday, and 188,976 their second: daily rates were running well below the level at the height of the rollout.

The total number of people who have had both doses across the UK is now more than 35.7 million – just under 68 per cent of adults. 

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he thought the current wave ‘will be quite long and drawn out… my hunch is that we are looking at a high level of incidence for a protracted period right through the summer and probably much of the autumn’.

He added that with infections doubling every two weeks, the number of cases could soon reach 100,000 a day – something which he ascribed to the number of young people still unvaccinated.

Underlining the risks involved in the unlocking, Sajid Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid and was self-isolating – describing his symptoms as ‘mild’ and saying he has been double-jabbed.

Even as fellow MPs rushed to wish him well, alarm bells started ringing over a ‘pingdemic’ at the heart of government – with ‘close contacts’ of the health secretary potentially forced into 10-day home isolation.

The Health Secretary had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Mr Johnson just before his symptoms developed.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

After feeling ‘a bit groggy’ on Friday night, Mr Javid – who has been double-jabbed – took a lateral flow test yesterday. When it came back positive, he began self-isolating with his family pending the results of a more reliable PCR test.

He said his symptoms were ‘mild’ but there were immediate concerns over those he had been in contact with, including Ministers and senior civil servants.

Downing Street last night said that if Mr Javid’s PCR test came back positive, those he had been close to him would be traced.

The Health Secretary was pictured leaving No 10 on Friday, shortly before he began to feel unwell, and earlier in the week he had visited vulnerable people in a care home.

Schools, hospitals, transport services and factories have been decimated by staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic’ of notifications on the NHS Covid app.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told they have been close to someone who has tested positive so must self-isolate, while others have been contacted by Test and Trace call centres.

Unlike most ordinary members of the public, however, many Whitehall officials and Ministers have been able to carry on visiting their offices if they take a daily test. 

They include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who was ‘pinged’ in May when he flew out to Porto to watch the Champions League football final but was able to avoid self-isolation by entering a ‘research programme’ called the Daily Contact Testing Study.

The Whitehall scare – just hours before the so-called ‘Freedom Day’ relaxation of Covid measures tomorrow – came as industry chiefs warned of food shortages and unemptied bins if urgent action was not taken to address the sensitivity of the app.

One London Underground line closed yesterday when control room staff were forced to self-isolate, and teaching unions said there had been reports of children being taken out of school because parents were scared of losing family holidays if they were ‘pinged’.


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