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Downing Street contemplated ‘chickenpox parties’ to build Covid herd immunity, report claims

Prime minister Boris Johnson during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-19) - Credit: PA

Downing Street had mulled over the possibility of “chickenpox parties” as a way to build immunity at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, a BBC report has revealed.

More than 20 senior politicians and officials who were present when pivotal decisions about Covid-19 were made spoke with the BBC, sharing what was a litany of mistakes and bizarre ideas discussed by No 10 as part of its response.



“There was a genuine argument in government, which everyone has subsequently denied,” one senior figure told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, about whether there should be a hard lockdown or a plan to protect only the most vulnerable, and even encourage what was described at that time as “some degree of herd immunity”.

There was even chatter of “chickenpox parties” in which healthy people were encouraged to meet to spread the virus, while consideration was also given to whether suppressing Covid entirely could be counterproductive.

This comes after Sunday Times reported last year that Dominic Cummings, who was leading the government’s response to the pandemic, suggested a strategy that protected the economy over the lives of the elderly.

Cummings reportedly championed a “herd immunity” response, saying his aim was to “protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.

The BBC report also points out that Boris Johnson was reluctant to consider “draconian” measures such as lockdown at the start, instead opting to project a “keep calm and get on with it” mentality.

As Kuenssberg notes, “even stopping shaking hands seemed a step too far for the prime minister”.

“Before the first major coronavirus briefing on 3 March, he had, I am told, been prepared by aides to say, if asked by journalists, people should stop shaking hands with each other – as per government scientific advice.

“But he said the exact opposite. ‘I’ve shaken hands with everybody,’ he said, about visiting a hospital with Covid patients.

“And it was not just a slip, one of those present at the briefing says. It demonstrated ‘the whole conflict for him – and his lack of understanding of the severity of what was coming'”.

Britain now has the sixth-highest number of Covid fatalities in the world and one of the highest per-capita death rates.

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