The Covid Inquiry has just unveiled some truly eye-opening evidence from those who advised the then government at the start of the pandemic.
Over the last week, private WhatsApps and advisers’ notes have been released to the public, while former government aides have offered damning evidence about Boris Johnson’s leadership when Covid first started to grip the UK.
The claims released over the last week about what was really going on behind the doors of Downing Street during the worst health crises in modern history have stunned the country.
So here’s a look at the most shocking allegations – and finger-pointing – presented to the inquiry’s chair this week.
1. Johnson was supposedly distracted by his personal life
Johnson’s most senior adviser at the time, Dominic Cummings, claimed in his written evidence that the PM was distracted by the finalisation of his divorce, his “financial problems” and his then girlfriend wanting to “finalise the announcement of their engagement” at the start of 2020.
Cummings also claimed the PM “wanted to work on his Shakespeare book,” even as international fears about Covid began to build.
2. Johnson did not think Covid was “a big deal”
Johnson’s former director of communications Lee Cain sent a message to Cummings in early 2020 claiming the PM “doesn’t think [Covid] is a big deal and he doesn’t think anything can be done and his focus is elsewhere”.
The message added: “He thinks it’ll be like swine flu and he thinks his main danger is talking economy into a slump.”
3. Cummings slammed PM for “melting down”
Messages to Cain showed Cummings thought Johnson was “melting down” when Covid cases started to rise.
The aide believed the PM was in “Jaws mode”, referring to the 1970s film where the mayor keep beaches open to the public despite the ongoing shark attacks.
Cummings claimed he told Johnson the NHS was imploding like a “zombie apocalypse film” – but the PM didn’t impose lockdown for another 12 days because he was “oscillating” and couldn’t decide.
5. Cain said Johnson was “exhausting”
“Anyone who’s worked with the prime minister for a period of time will become exhausted with him sometimes,” Cain told the inquiry.
He added that Johnson can be “quite a challenging character to work with” because he can’t make a decision.
He added Covid was the “wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skillset”, because it requires “quick decisions”.
Johnson’s then-principal private secretary Martin Reynolds echoed this message, telling the inquiry that the PM “blew hot and cold” over plans to tackle vital issues which led to “very difficult consequences”.
Unearthed WhatsApps from cabinet secretary Simon Case – who is still in his role – expressed similar views. He wrote: “IT HAS TO STOP!
“Govt [sic] isn’t actually that hard, but this guy is really making it impossible.”
6. Cummings called ministers “useless fuckpigs”
In private messages to Cain, the then top prime ministerial aide dubbed ministers “useless fuckpigs, morons, c****, actually”.
Pressed over these messages, Cummings apologised for his language but told the inquiry that this “understated the position as events showed in 2020″.
7. Top civil servant found there was “no plan” for Covid
Helen MacNamara, who served as the deputy cabinet secretary between 2020 and 2021, said she realised 10 days before the first national lockdown there was no government plan to deal with the crisis.
She said she spoke to an official at the Department of Health, Mark Sweeney, who “had been told for years that there is a whole plan” for a pandemic.
But 10 days before the lockdown, he said there wasn’t one.
According to Cummings, MacNamara told him and other colleagues: “I think we’re absolutely fucked, I think this country is heading for a disaster, I think we’re going to kill thousands of people.”
Cumming also claimed there was no shielding plan for the vulnerable, and suggested the Cabinet Office had tried to “block” No.10 from introducing one.
8. Johnson had a “weak team” around him
Case slammed the indecision which was supposedly holding back the government, blaming both the PM and his closest ministers in a WhatsApp to Cummings. He wrote: “IT HAS TO STOP!
“Govt [sic] isn’t actually that hard, but this guy is really making it impossible.”
He then named former health secretary Matt Hancock, education secretary Gavin Williamson and head of test and trace Dido Harding for being part of a “weak team” led by a captain who changes the call on the “big plays every day”.
9. Matt Hancock thought he should decide who lived and died
The then health secretary believed he should decide who got to survive if the NHS became overwhelmed at the height of Covid, according to former chief executive of NHS England.
Sir Simon Stevens was asked by the inquiry what might happen if care had to be rationed in the NHS.
Stevens said Hancock “took the position that in this situation he, rather than the medical profession or the public, should ultimately decide who should live and who should die”.
Stevens said that he did not agree with the then health secretary, and that those decisions should be a matter for doctors.
However he did think Hancock could be trusted “for the most part”.
10. Hancock allegedly told colleagues falsehoods
MacNamara told the inquiry the health secretary “regularly” told colleagues things “they later discovered weren’t true”.
She said by April 2020 there was a “lack of confidence of what he said was happening, was actually happening,” particularly when he said a matter was under control – and then it turned out it wasn’t.
She said Hancock told ministers “time and time again” that he had a plan for dealing with Covid, but that it never materialised.
Cummings echoed this claim, saying Hancock had “sowed chaos” by insisting early on that those with a dry cough and a temperature wouldn’t be suffering from Covid – even though those were the two most prominent symptoms.
He also suggested Hancock was a “proven liar” a “problem leaker” and a “c***”.
11. Hancock supposedly had an interesting attitude to his job
When asked by MacNamara how he was feeling about the responsibilities of his role in the middle of a health crisis, the former health secretary downplayed it, and mimed swinging an imaginary bat outside the cabinet room.
MacNamara wrote in her statement: “He reassured me that he was ‘loving responsibility’ and to demonstrate this took up a batsman’s stance outside the Cabinet Room, and said, ‘they bowl them at me, I knock them away’.”
Asked why she had included that anecdote in her statement, MacNamara said it showed the “nuclear levels of confidence that were being deployed which I do think is a problem”.
The inquiry’s counsel asked her: “Does it come back to the fact that Mr Hancock regularly was telling people things that they later discovered weren’t true?”
12. Johnson oversaw a “toxic culture” in Downing Street
The top civil servant told the inquiry about the “obvious sexist treatment” of women she saw while she worked at the top of government.
MacNamara said her warnings about what was happening in Italy, when it was being gripped by Covid in early 2020, “did not register” and claimed this was because of an attitude which saw “women being ignored”.
She said Westminster and Whitehall are “endemically sexist” but it got worse during the pandemic when Johnson was at the government’s helm.
MacNamara alleged that women had to “turn their screens off” on Zoom meetings or sit in the back row for face-to-face meetings and “rarely spoke”.
She said the “dominant culture was macho and heroic” and “contaminated by ego”.
When shown texts showing Cummings had called her a c***, MacNamara told the inquiry it was “both surprising and not surprising to me, and I don’t know which is worse”.
She added: “It is disappointing to me that the prime minister didn’t pick him up on the use of some of that violent and misogynistic language.”
13. MacNamara said Covid regulations were broken every day in Downing Street
Touching on partygate, when Downing Street workers including the prime minister were found to be breaking social distancing rules, MacNamara suggested regulations were frequently broken.
She said: “I would find it hard to pick one day when the regulations were followed properly inside Downing Street.”
MacNamara, who has now left the civil service, said the only event where the guidance was followed “to the letter” was the weekly cabinet meeting.
“And everybody moaned about it and tried to change it repeatedly,” she said. “So I know how exceptional it was to really, really, really properly follow the guidance.”
Referring to the party which led to fines for both Johnson and Sunak, MacNamara added: “When the police … said that was the wrong side of the line, I’m certain that there are hundreds of civil servants and potentially ministers who in retrospect think they were the wrong side of that line.”
14. Boris Johnson asked if blowing a hair dryer up your nose would kill Covid
Then-prime minister allegedly watched a YouTube video making the absurd claim and then asked if it would be an effective way to get rid of the infection.
“A low point was when he circulated a video of a guy blowing a special hair dryer up his nose ‘to kill Covid’ and asked the CSA (chief science adviser) and CM (chief medical officer) what they thought,” Cummings said.
Case also voiced concerns that Johnson was “Trump-Bolsonaro level mad” on Covid in his texts sent around July 2020.
Similarly, MacNamara told the inquiry Johnson did not understand the basic science behind the disease, and said it felt like a “bit of cop-out” when the government kept claiming it was “following the science”.
15. Johnson’s attitude towards the elderly
The inquiry revealed that, in August 2020, the chief scientific adviser during Covid, Sir Patrick Vallance, wrote in his diary the the prime minister was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”.
Then in December, Vallance wrote: ”[Johnson] says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people’.”