According to Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson inquired of government scientists about the potential effectiveness of a “unique nasal hair dryer” in combating Covid. Cummings claimed that the former prime minister shared a video featuring an individual using this device with his top advisors, Sir Patrick Vallance and Sir Chris Whitty. Johnson sought the opinion of these medical experts regarding the video. Johnson has not provided a comment on this matter.
This intriguing revelation is one of several disclosures made by Cummings in his witness statement for the inquiry into the government’s pandemic response. Cummings served as Johnson’s chief advisor until his departure from Downing Street in late 2020, following an internal dispute over his role. Since then, he has been an outspoken critic of the former prime minister’s leadership during the pandemic response.
In his statement, Cummings stated that the former prime minister was reluctant to “antagonize” the media by debunking false stories, and there were even doubts among staff as to whether Johnson might be the source of some of these false narratives. One particular low point, as described by Cummings, was when Johnson shared a now-deleted YouTube video in a WhatsApp group with Sir Chris, England’s chief medical officer (CMO), and Sir Patrick, who was then the government’s chief scientific advisor (CSA). Johnson then inquired about their opinions, although the statement does not provide information about their responses, if any.
In another section of his witness statement, Mr. Cummings claimed that the former prime minister instructed him to locate a “dead cat” – a term referring to a sensational claim used to divert media attention away from Covid in late 2020.
During the summer of that same year, Mr. Johnson, as stated by Mr. Cummings, expressed a desire to declare Covid as “over,” even though it was evident that such a move would likely have adverse consequences.
“In one instance during the autumn,” Mr. Cummings added, “he instructed me to ‘put your campaign head back on and devise a way to ‘dead-cat’ Covid. I’m fed up with Covid, and I want it out of the headlines.”
“I conveyed that no campaign could effectively ‘dead-cat’ Covid, and I was unwilling to dedicate my time to such an endeavor,” he further stated.
Mr. Cummings is one of several senior government advisers and officials who have presented their testimony to the Covid inquiry this week.
In her witness statement, former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara indicated that officials had attempted to obscure the seriousness of Mr. Johnson’s illness after he was hospitalized with Covid in April 2020. Ms. MacNamara noted that the statements provided to journalists about Mr. Johnson “receiving updates in the hospital” and “continuing to receive a box” were technically accurate but verged on the edge of what was ethically comfortable.
She revealed that senior press advisers had cautioned against making untrue statements, but the language used did allow for a more positive impression of the prime minister’s health at that time. She clarified that although the prime minister was conscious and capable of being contacted and making decisions, he was very ill.