Downing Street denies Boris Johnson adviser wanted to ‘let old people die’

Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings at a news conference inside 10 Downi

Chief Adviser to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings at a news conference inside 10 Downing Street, London, after the latest COBRA meeting to discuss the government's response to coronavirus crisis. Picture date: Monday March 16, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Richard Pohle/The Times /PA Wire - Credit: PA

A newspaper report which claimed Dominic Cummings initially argued against stricter measures to protect the vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak has been described as 'defamatory' by Downing Street, who angrily denied the story.

The Sunday Times reported that as Boris Johnson and his advisers met to discuss the outbreak at a private event at the end of February the prime minister's key adviser outlined the government response as 'herd immunity, protect the economy, and if that means some pensioners die, too bad.'

It is reported that it was only last Thursday, when new information came to light from scientists at the Imperial College London, did Cummings have a change of view on the response.

One senior Tory told the newspaper: 'He's gone from 'herd immunity and let the old people die' to 'let's shut down the country and the economy'.'

While the use of the term 'herd immunity' has previously been used by government scientists, Number 10 has denied it has ever been its approach.

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The story comes as there is growing discontent with the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak.

One cabinet minister reportedly told BuzzFeed they were concerned the prime minister was not being honest with the public, with others reportedly claiming the operations in Downing Street made it difficult to express concerns.

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They said: 'This is going to get much, much worse, very quickly, both in terms of deaths and the economy. It will not be long before we are getting numbers like Italy. I don't think people realise that yet.'

But Downing Street has gone on the record to dismiss the Sunday Times story claiming that it was a 'highly defamatory fabrication'.

The spokesman said: 'This is a highly defamatory fabrication which was not put to No 10 by the Sunday Times before publication. The article also includes a series of apparent quotes from meetings which are invented.'

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for Boris Johnson to show leadership on the matter.

He said: 'The absolute priority has to be saving lives and this must always be what is guiding the government's decisions.

'Attitudes like this will not be forgiven and people will be sickened by such comments.

'Boris Johnson need to show the leadership that this crisis demands. We need clarity from government messages and ministers must channel all their energies into protecting people's health, wellbeing and livelihoods.'

Labour MP David Lammy said 'this must be the last slogan Dominic Cummings gets to use to govern Britain', adding that 'thousands will die because of his apathy and arrogance'.

Broadcaster Jamies O'Brien said it was the 'worst fears' confirmed about the running of government.

'Every single time you told yourself it couldn't all be down to the pound shop Machiavelli, that nobody could allow these life and death decisions to be taken on the fly, a little voice piped up to remind you who was prime minister.'

Cummings has previously expressed an interest in 'blue sky' science and eugenics - having suggested in a past blog post that the NHS could fund selection of genetic traits in babies.

A blue skies research body he had championed was awarded £800 million in funding in this month's budget.

Last month Andrew Sabisky, who is said to have responded to a blog post from Cummings calling for 'misfits' and 'weirdos', was sacked for past remarks made about unplanned pregnancies.

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