Senior ministers planned to respond to the coronavirus pandemic by letting infections rip through Britain in a bid to create “herd immunity”.
That’s a fact well-known to readers of Socialist Worker, but now it is coming straight from the horse’s mouth.
Dominic Cummings this weekend accused health secretary Matt Hancock of lying with his claim that the government had never intended to pursue herd immunity.
The prime minister’s disgraced former chief of staff said allowing the virus to rip was “literally the official plan in all docs/graphs/meetings until it was ditched”. He added that the tactic was only abandoned at the start of March when it became clear that the death toll would be in the hundreds of thousands.
At a press conference in March 2020, chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said “it’s not possible to stop everybody getting” Covid-19.
That was a hint that herd immunity was indeed the government’s plan. Valance went on, “It's not possible to stop everybody getting it and it's also actually not desirable because you want some immunity in the population.
“We need immunity to protect ourselves from this in the future.”
But just days later, hapless Hancock wrote in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, “We have a plan, based on the expertise of world-leading scientists.
“Herd immunity is not a part of it.”
Cummings is set to give evidence to parliament later this week. The hypocritical spin doctor could reveal more of the Tories’ plans to allow hundreds of thousands to die in a bid to maintain profits flowing.
He does not have clean hands himself. In March last year, the Sunday Times reported that Cummings at the end of February had outlined the government’s strategy as “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.”
Meanwhile, the shambles of the government’s handling of the pandemic has helped spread dangerous new coronavirus variants across Britain.
Tory complacency led to two terrible errors that could cost lives.
First, it was revealed this week that ministers ignored the first signs of a sharp rise in B.1.617.2 “Indian variant” infections. Evidence appeared in sewage tests in Bedford three weeks ago.
Public health officials say tests of the town sewage water had indicated a rapid rise in infections at the start of May. These were possibly linked to the new variant that was also hitting Bolton and Blackburn at the time.
Ministers saw the potential for an outbreak. But they kept their focus on rising cases in the north west of England to fit their narrative that these were “localised cases”. This lie would help them “unlock the country” and end restrictions.
Second, it was revealed that the privatised test and trace service failed to tell many local authorities about hundreds of positive cases throughout April and May.
Many of the worst affected councils are now at the centre of the rapid spread of the new strain.
The BBC was this week passed local authority reports that show the number of missing cases was highest in Blackburn with Darwen in Lancashire. More than 290 cases were not passed on—despite the area being in the grip of a new round of infections.
In some cases, names were passed on to the authority but without addresses or phone numbers. This rendered the information useless.
As a result of the failure, local authorities were unable to alert the close contacts of those infected and instruct them to isolate. And that helped the spread of Covid-19.
The report says that “the rapid spread of Indian variant cases may be partially or largely attributable to risks in the international travel control system.” It adds, “These were exacerbated by the sporadic failure of the national test and trace system.”
NHS Test and Trace is run for profit by some of the biggest failures in corporate history, including Serco. It has been backed by some £37 billion of public money.
This week NHS Test and Trace sacked thousands of its clinical staff—just as the spread new infections was causing chaos in towns across Britain.
In addition to the national spread of B.1.617.2, another new variant, AV.1, has been picked up in Yorkshire. AV.1 appears to carry three mutations associated with other “variants of concern”, including those first found in South Africa and Kent.
Dr Kev Smith, from Public Health England, said scientists had been watching and sequencing the variant since the “strange combination of mutations” were spotted a few weeks ago.
Smith said the agency had classified it as a “variant under investigation” and would continue monitoring its spread through extra testing.
“At the moment, we don't think it's more infectious than the other coronaviruses that we are seeing around,” he said.
That may well be true, but the fact that new strains of the coronavirus are circulating in England ought to be ringing alarm bells in the government.
Their eagerness to further lift coronavirus restrictions carries a grave risk of encouraging a new wave.