Italian health minister claims Boris Johnson told his leader the UK plan was ‘herd immunity’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street. Photograph: JULIAN SIMM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaking at a media briefing in Downing Street. Photograph: JULIAN SIMMONDS/Daily Telegraph. - Credit: PA

An Italian health minister has claimed that Boris Johnson told the European country's prime minister he was initially looking at a 'herd immunity' approach to the coronavirus.

Channel 4 heard from Italian health minister Pierpaolo Sileri who said Boris Johnson told the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte in a call on March 13 that he wanted herd immunity in the UK.

Conte is said to have recounted the conversation to Sileri, who told Dispatches: 'I spoke with Conte to tell President Conte that I'd tested positive.

'And he told me that he'd spoken with Boris Johnson and that they'd also talked about the situation in Italy. I remember he said, 'He told me that he wants herd immunity'.

'I remember that after hanging up, I said to myself that I hope Boris Johnson goes for a lockdown.'


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Around the same time period it was reported SAGE scientists had considered explaining such a strategy to the public, minutes of the meetings revealed.

It was supported by claims from Donald Trump who said he believed the UK's response would have caused 'a lot of death'.

It was reported that at the time the strategy was supported by his senior aide Dominic Cummings before he changed his mind after seeing more data, something the senior aide has strenuously denied.


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A Downing Street readout of the call noted: 'The two leaders discussed the importance of taking a transparent and science led approach in response to the virus.

'They also agreed on the need for international coordination, including through the G7, and they agreed a call between G7 leaders would be a good opportunity to do that.'

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Professor Graham Medley, who sits on the government's Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), also told Channel 4 about his frustration over a lack of clear strategy from ministers at the beginning.

He said: 'We already knew that this virus was going to cause an awful lot of death and disability and would require an awful lot of NHS resource... so it was with some dismay that we were watching senior politicians behaving in a way that suggested that this was not something that was too serious.'

Prof Medley also said the government was told in late February that half a million people could die in the UK unless lockdown measures were introduced. A full lockdown was imposed on March 23.

'We had been saying it on SAGE... from the end of February. It was a public perception that something changed on the 16th March, but nothing changed within SPI-M or within Sage other than a palpable relief that this was being seen as a very serious event.'

A government spokesperson said: 'This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it.

'At every stage, the government has been guided by the advice of experts from Sage and its sub-committees - advice which has now been published on gov.uk.

'Our response has ensured that the NHS has capacity for everyone who needs it and that it can provide the best possible care for people who become ill. Instead of accepting the claims of a rushed documentary which set out to find failings rather than to inform, we advise viewers to read the published evidence themselves.'

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