UK’s Covid-19 messages to public could have had deadly results, says Dominic Cummings

PM Boris Johnson's former top adviser was giving evidence in a lawsuit hearing

FILE PHOTO: Dominic Cummings, special adviser for Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, walks for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street, London, Britain September 10, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
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The UK lacked the skills and resources to deliver key messages to the public at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, with possibly “deadly consequences", said Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s former special adviser.

Dominic Cummings, who stepped down as Mr Johnson’s highest-profile aide in November, said in a witness statement that the relevant public bodies were ill-equipped to communicate with citizens when the virus started spreading rapidly a year ago.

Mr Cummings named the Cabinet Office, the Department of Health and Social Care, Public Health England and the National Health Service.

“They did not have the people or skills needed to undertake this type of public communications at speed,” he said in a witness statement released on Monday as part of a London lawsuit.

“Some of the first drafts of mass communication material were confusing and confusion clearly could have deadly consequences.”

The lawsuit is challenging why the government awarded a contract worth more than £564,000 ($785,000) to research company Public First, the owners of which are friends of Mr Cummings.

Public-interest group the Good Law Project has accused the government of awarding the contract without any kind of procurement competition.

“It’s one thing to have a transparent competition where one or some of the decision-makers are familiar with the bidders,” said Jolyon Maugham, lawyer and director of the Good Law Project.

"But it’s quite another to have a single decision-maker who is friends with the only company considered for the work.

“We believe government has misled the public on how and why their money was spent in this contract."

Mr Cummings told the court that “urgent help was needed to communicate effectively essential health messages to the public” and the government “was not doing it properly.”

The Cabinet Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.