In Leaked Messages, Johnson Called His Health Secretary ‘Hopeless’

LONDON — On the night time of March 26, 2020, because the coronavirus was engulfing Britain and its leaders have been struggling to trend a response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ridiculed his authorities’s well being secretary, with a profanity, as completely “hopeless,” in line with a textual content message posted by his former chief adviser.

The WhatsApp message, one among a number of texts shared on Wednesday by Mr. Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, reignited a debate over how Britain dealt with the early days of the pandemic — a interval when Mr. Cummings stated it lurched from one course to a different and did not arrange an efficient test-and-trace program.

In riveting testimony earlier than Parliament final month, Mr. Cummings pinned a lot of the blame for the disarray on the well being secretary, Matt Hancock, whom he accused of rank incompetence and serial mendacity. Mr. Hancock denied the accusations earlier than lawmakers final week. He stated it was “telling” that Mr. Cummings had not offered proof to again up his most incendiary claims.

The WhatsApp messages, and an accompanying 7,000-word weblog publish, are the previous aide’s try to take action. They depict a authorities below relentless stress, racing to safe ventilators and protecting gear, scale up a testing program, and decide on the appropriate technique to forestall the nation’s hospitals from collapsing.

In the textual content trade with Mr. Johnson on March 26, Mr. Cummings famous that the United States went from testing 2,200 individuals a day to 100,000 in two weeks. He stated Mr. Hancock was “skeptical” about having the ability to check even 10,000 a day, regardless of having promised two days earlier to achieve that objective inside just a few days.

The trade prompted Mr. Johnson’s profane description of Mr. Hancock, which he adopted with a sequence of post-midnight calls to Mr. Cummings that the aide didn’t choose up. Mr. Cummings stated Mr. Johnson was attempting to contact him to inform him that he himself had simply examined constructive for the virus.

That set off a tumultuous interval during which Mr. Johnson turned severely unwell with Covid-19, ending up in an intensive care unit, whereas his authorities struggled to comprise a virus that was exploding throughout the nation. In a method, Mr. Cummings stated, the state of affairs improved: Mr. Johnson deputized his overseas secretary, Dominic Raab, to chair conferences in his absence, and Mr. Raab did a greater job of it.

“Raab can chair meetings properly instead of telling rambling stories and jokes,” Mr. Cummings wrote. “He let good officials actually question people so we started to get to the truth, unlike the PM who as soon as things get ‘a bit embarrassing’ does the whole ‘let’s take it offline’ schtick before shouting ‘forward to victory,’ doing a thumbs-up and pegging it out of the room before anybody can disagree.”

Mr. Cummings is hardly an unbiased observer. He and Mr. Johnson had a bitter falling-out a 12 months after Mr. Cummings masterminded the election marketing campaign that gave Mr. Johnson’s Conservative Party an 80-seat majority in Parliament. Mr. Johnson fired him final November, and the aide has these days been waging a form of guerrilla insurgency towards his former boss on social media.

Public help for Mr. Johnson has remained robust as Britain recovered from its shaky begin to deploy vaccines quickly. Mr. Cummings, for his half, has been in disrepute since final 12 months when studies surfaced that he had violated lockdown guidelines to journey 260 miles to his mother and father’ home within the North of England.

The screenshots of WhatsApp texts supply solely a fragmentary account of what occurred in 10 Downing Street throughout that interval. Mr. Hancock claimed that there was by no means a nationwide scarcity of protecting tools, that the testing system finally labored, and that everybody who wanted therapy for Covid-19 received it.

In his testimony, Mr. Hancock stated he didn’t know why Mr. Cummings bore such an animus towards him. He stated he was conscious that Mr. Cummings was agitating to get him fired. But he insisted Mr. Johnson had by no means wavered in his help and identified that it was Mr. Cummings who misplaced his job.

“The best thing to say about this, and this will be corroborated by lots of people in government, is that the government has operated better over the past six months,” Mr. Hancock informed a Parliamentary committee.

Still, Mr. Cummings was on the coronary heart of the Covid response and his WhatsApp texts with Mr. Johnson are a real-time glimpse into how the federal government handled it. He accused Mr. Hancock of rewriting historical past, noting that Britain initially deserted group testing earlier than reinstating it with Mr. Hancock’s much-trumpeted goal of 100,000 assessments a day by the tip of April 2020.

Devi Sridhar, the pinnacle of the worldwide public well being program on the University of Edinburgh, stated the newest info “reinforces that testing capacity was a bottleneck, though they never admitted it publicly.” But Professor Sridhar stated she doubted {that a} “vast majority of the British public are interested in these exchanges. They want Covid to be finished, their vaccines and life to go on.”

Indeed, the disclosures by Mr. Cummings appear largely designed to form the narrative upfront of a Parliamentary inquiry into how the federal government dealt with the pandemic, which he predicted wouldn’t be accomplished earlier than Mr. Johnson left workplace.

Mr. Cummings cited two different incidents that he stated demonstrated Mr. Johnson’s lack of religion in his well being secretary. On March 27 final 12 months, as hospitals have been filling up, Mr. Cummings texted the prime minister to say the federal government had turned down provides to purchase ventilators as a result of suppliers had raised their costs.

“It’s Hancock,” Mr. Johnson replied. “He has been hopeless.”

A month later, Mr. Cummings and Mr. Johnson have been once more buying and selling late-night texts, this time concerning the scarcity of face masks and different private protecting tools in hospitals. The prime minister floated the concept of reassigning duty for that to a different Cabinet minister, Michael Gove.

“On p.p.e. it’s a disaster,” Mr. Johnson wrote. “I can’t think of anything except taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”

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