Covid inquiry live: Whitty says Cummings’ attendance at Sage meetings ‘caused quite a row’

Boris Johnson was bamboozled by the pandemic, Patrick Vallance says

There was a “bit of a row” when former no 10 senior adviser Dominic Cummings said he wanted to attend Sage meetings during the Covid-19 crisis, the UK Covid-19 public inquiry has heard.

England’s chief medical officer Professor Sir Chris Whitty said: “When it was known that Mr Cummings himself sometimes came to Sage, this caused quite a row actually, I wasn’t the person who made the decision to make that possible.”

Whitty has taken the stand at the official Covid inquiry today in a highly anticipated evidence session.

He was at the heart of decision-making during the pandemic, working closely with then prime minister Boris Johnson and others at the top of government.

During yesterday’s session, it emerged that Sir Patrick Vallance, the former government science adviser, privately referred to Whitty as a lockdown “delayer” as “palpable tension” emerged between the two over policy.

Sir Patrick made an entry in his own diary in February 2021 in which Sir Chris had spoken to him about the inquiry they knew was coming, and whether the lockdown in March 2020 had been imposed too late.

“He was a delayer of course,” Sir Patrick wrote.


Mother ‘powerless’ to help daughter in care home during Covid, inquiry told

A mother has told an inquiry her daughter felt she “lost her family” due to restrictions in care homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Verona Gibson, a member of Care Home Relatives Scotland, told the Scottish Covid-19 Inquiry on Tuesday her daughter’s physical and mental health declined.

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 16:01


Pandemic plan was ‘woefully deficient, even for a flu pandemic, Whitty

Pandemic preparedness plans in place ahead of the Covid-19 crisis were “not particularly helpful” and would have been “woefully deficient” even for a flu pandemic, England’s chief medical officer has suggested, Archie Mitchell reports.

Many have suggested that issues early in the pandemic were down to the fact that the UK’s pandemic preparedness plans were drawn up to deal with flu instead of a coronavirus.

Professor Sir Chris Whitty told the UK Covid-19 public inquiry that it was clear in early 2020 that the plan was not going to be particularly helpful in the crisis and had been drawn up by people who had just gone through the swine flu pandemic, which had a very low death rate.

He said there are some good “building blocks” within the document but many of these blocks had to be constructed “in a rush” in the early days of the pandemic.

“I looked at the pandemic flu plan at the point when we were beginning to worry about this … And it was pretty clear that it wasn’t going to give us any particular help, frankly,” he said.

“So my view was we didn’t have a plan that was going to be useful from a prevention or management point of view – it had a lot of, a large number of useful components within it.

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 15:40


‘Nobody looking at this could say this was ideal,’ Sir Chris Whitty says

The chief medical officer has told the Covid inquiry that “nobody looking [at Britain’s handling of the pandemic] could say it was ideal”, Archie Mitchell reports.

The stunned Covid inquiry lead counsel Hugo Keith KC said: “That is, if I may say so with the greatest respect, quite an understatement.”

But professor Sir Chris Whitty added that he was “not convinced that had we done things differently, it would have led to a different outcome”.

Pressed on whether he could have raised the alarm earlier in the pandemic and with more importance, Sir Chris said: “It’s difficult to work out where you can go once you have talked to all the people I talked to. And it is a very long list of people.”

He said former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance also tried to “escalate this to the centre” through the office of Dominic Cummings. “So it is not that there were not attempts to do this,” Sir Chris said.

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 15:28


Whitty defends February meeting in which ministers heard just a ‘short update’ on Covid

Sir Chris Whitty has defended a meeting in February 2020, at a time when he was aware the pandemic posed a “massive threat” to the UK, in which ministers were given just a “short update” on Covid, Archie Mitchell reports.

The inquiry was shown a letter from Downing Street to the Department of Health summing up a meeting on February 4.

“We began with a short update on coronavirus. Following an update from the CMO, the prime minister stressed the need to continue to explain our stance to maintain public confidence in the plan,” the letter said.

The Covid inquiry’s lead counsel Hugo Keith KC said: “There wouldn’t appear, professor, on the face of that paragraph, to be much by way of reflection of the massive threat that you described.”

Sir Chris said the pandemic was still not a certainty. And Sir Chris said he stressed that in a reasonable worst case scenario Britain was facing 100,000 to 300,000 deaths “which, to be clear, it is pretty accurate compared to where we are, sadly, now”.

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 15:11


‘We should have quarantined travellers from China… but it would not have made a difference’

Sir Chris Whitty said the government should have encouraged travellers arriving from China to quarantine for up to two weeks regardless of symptoms, even though it “probably wouldn’t have made much difference”, Archie Mitchell reports.

Many of the cases imported to Britain were from neighbouring European countries such as Italy, the chief medical officer told the Covid inquiry.

But he said while the power of hindsight has led people to take “unduly harsh views” about what could have been done differently during the pandemic.

“Here’s an area which I think we probably should have done something different, even though it probably wouldn’t have made much difference,” Sir Chris said.

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 14:54


Early response problems were due to a lack of data, Whitty says

Issues with the UK’s early response to the pandemic have been described as a “data problem” by Professor Sir Chris Whitty.

He told the UK Covid-19 Inquiry: “The big problem we had in early March, in my view, principally arose from the fact we didn’t realise how far on the path we were and the force of transmission.

“Which was a data problem, and a testing problem, rather than because we lacked a document in February.”

He apologised to inquiry counsel Hugo Keith for “sounding slightly cautious about the importance of documents”.

He added: “But I’m just being practical about how emergencies tend to play out and the documents are often quite late in the process.”

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 14:47


Chris Whitty has defended the lack of a plan for the Covid pandemic

Sir Chris Whitty has defended the lack of a plan for Covid, claiming it would “almost certainly have been the wrong plan”, Archie Mitchell reports.

The chief medical officer told the Covid inquiry said: “I’m going to cause upset to some of my planning colleagues, but I’m going to do it anyway.

“A plan that was laid out, this is how the playbook should run, would almost certainly have been the wrong plan and could easily even have slowed us down.

“Because we’d have then spent ages arguing about whether this was the right plan and adapting the plan.”

Matt Mathers21 November 2023 14:23


Sir Chris Whitty turns on the charm

Asked to slow down by Covid inquiry counsel Hugo Keith KC, so that the stenographer can keep up, Sir Chis Whitty quipped: “It is my enthusiasm to answer your excellent questions.”

“Long may it continue,” Mr Keith replied.

Archie Mitchell21 November 2023 14:15


Idea there was a Covid plan was ‘optimistic at best’, Whitty says

Sir Chris Whitty said the idea Britain had a plan to deal with the kind of pandemic Covid turned out to be was “optimistic at best”.

The chief medical officer told the Covid inquiry he had “no illusions” that the UK and other western nations were “well set up” to handle a major pandemic with significant mortality.

Sir Chris said: “We did not have a plan that was going to be useful from a prevention or management point of view.

“It had a large number of useful components within it, there wasn’t nothing helpful there.

“But the idea there was a respiratory pandemic plan, for the kind of pandemic this was going to be… that we could just take off the shelf and follow the playbook was was optimistic at best.”

Archie Mitchell21 November 2023 14:11


Politicians never ‘applied their minds’, former Supreme Court judge says

Politicians never “applied their minds” to considering the economic cost of lockdowns, former Supreme Court judge Lord Sumption has said.

Speaking about the latest evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, he told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme it was not former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance or chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty’s “job to work out what the economic downsides were”.

“It was the job of the politicians, and the main lesson to emerge from all this is that none of the politicians were prepared to grasp this nettle.

“They should have looked at the non-scientific factors – the economic, the financial, the social, the educational costs.

“What the present evidence confirms is that nobody really ever even applied their minds to that.”

(Supreme Court)

Alexander Butler21 November 2023 14:08

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