To date, more than 128,000 people have died in the United Kingdom from Covid-19 — the highest death toll in Europe. One of the biggest early failures of the UK’s response to Covid-19 was in building a fit-for-purpose test-and-trace system. The British government has also been criticized for neglecting care homes, allowing many facilities to go without sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE), testing and clear guidelines.
“As the PM said himself, Hancock’s performance on testing, procurement, PPE [personal protective equipment], care homes etc was ‘totally f**king hopeless,'” Cummings said in a tweet, sharing a screenshot of what appears to be a WhatsApp exchange with Johnson from March 27, just days after the UK went into its first full lockdown amid a worsening outbreak.
It’s the latest bombshell to be dropped by Cummings, a divisive figure who quit his post last November amid the UK’s deadly second wave of the pandemic. Last month, he gave a damning account of the government’s coronavirus response in a marathon seven-hour hearing before Members of Parliament in Westminster.
But Cummings’ critics have questioned his legitimacy as a witness. During the height of the pandemic, he was arguably the most senior person working inside Downing Street, aside from Johnson and played a key role in devising the government’s pandemic strategy.
Cummings suggested that Hancock had dreamed up a “new version of reality” when he said he had come up with the idea of increasing testing capacity, and that the health secretary had in fact been operating under the abandoned “herd immunity” strategy until March 16. Among Cummings’ “evidence” dump was a document from the UK government’s Cobra committee — a cross-departmental group convened in situations of national emergency — that argued for herd immunity by September to avoid a second peak.
The former aide also claimed that the health secretary had deliberately aimed to distract “attention from testing in care homes and the PPE debacle” in April, by grabbing media attention with his pledge to deliver 100,000 tests a day.
“Testing, like vaccines, was removed from his control in May because of his incompetence and dishonesty,” Cummings wrote on Substack.
Cummings said Hancock had misrepresented his role in the handling of the crisis, giving “a fictitious account” to MPs last week during a parliamentary hearing in which he denied there were national shortages of PPE and defended his 100,000 testing target.
“If No10 is prepared to lie so deeply and widely about such vital issues of life and death last year, it cannot be trusted now either on covid or any other crucial issue of war and peace,” Cummings wrote.
Cummings said he had been conflicted about publishing the private WhatsApp messages, but felt compelled to do so after Hancock disputed his retelling of events at the select committee and called on him to provide evidence.
In screenshots of text messages published on Substack, Cummings said Hancock had told a morning meeting on March 24 that testing capacity would be ramped up from 10,000 a day by March 30 and 100,000 a day “within a month.”
According to the photo shared on Cummings’ blog and on Twitter, Johnson responded: “Totally f**king hopeless.”
In another text message a month later, on April 27, when National Health Service staff were running out of critical masks and gowns, Johnson said the PPE shortages were “a disaster,” and suggested taking Hancock off delivery of the equipment entirely.
“Wtf do we do?” Johnson wrote.
When asked during Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday whether the WhatsApp messages published by Cummings were genuine, Johnson did not respond.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said he does not plan to engage with every allegation made and that the government’s focus is on delivering for the public.
The spokesman added that Johnson had full confidence in his health secretary.
CNN has reached out to the UK Department of Health and Social Care for comment.