Ex-Cabinet Secretary Lord Sedwill apologises for ‘thoughtless’ suggestion about holding chicken pox-style Covid parties at the start of the pandemic saying he didn’t expect the idea ‘to become public’
Former Cabinet Secretary Lord Sedwill has apologised for floating the idea of chicken pox-style Covid parties early in the pandemic.
The ex-mandarin admitted making the remark but insisted he was only highlighting the way that society would need to develop immunity naturally.
Giving evidence to the Covid inquiry, Lord Sedwill said sorry and accepted the remarks could have come across as ‘both heartless and thoughtless’.
But he stressed that the comments were made in ‘private exchanges’ and he had ‘not expected for this to become public’.
Dominic Cummings referred to Lord Sedwill’s initial views about Covid in his submission to the probe, saying the civil servant had been ‘babbling about’ chickenpox.
Giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry, Lord Sedwill admitted making remarks about chicken pox-style parties but insisted he was only highlighting the way that society would need to develop immunity naturally
Dominic Cummings (pictured) referred to Lord Sedwill’s initial views about Covid in his submission to the probe last week
According to Mr Cummings, Lord Sedwill suggested to Boris Johnson that he should go on television and ‘explain that this is like the old days with chickenpox and people are going to have chickenpox parties’.
The peer told the inquiry today: ‘These were private exchanges and I certainly had not expected for this to become public.
‘I understand how, in particular the interpretation that has been put on it, it must have come across as someone in my role was both heartless and thoughtless about this and I genuinely am neither. But I do understand the distress that must have caused and I apologise for that.’
Lord Sedwill said the remarks had been made before the mid-March 2020 meetings in which the Government changed its approach to head towards a lockdown.
‘I should say, at no point did I believe that coronavirus was only of the same seriousness as chickenpox, I knew it was a much more serious disease, that was not the point I was trying to make,’ he said.
He said he stopped making the comparison when he realised the reaction of Downing Street’s Ben Warner, because he realised ‘that analogy was causing confusion’.
Messages from March 12, 2020 showed Lord Sedwill had discussed chickenpox with Sir Christopher Wormald, the top civil servant at the Department of Health.
‘Indeed presumably like chickenpox we want people to get it and develop herd immunity before the next wave,’ the peer wrote.
Lord Sedwill, a former diplomat, was running the civil service when the pandemic struck but was forced out in September 2020.
Messages displayed at the inquiry today included Lord Sedwill warning Mr Cummings in March 2020 that the Government was not a ‘dictatorship’, over concerns the aide wanted Mr Johnson to take nationally significant decisions with no ministers or experts present.
Lord Sedwill also acknowledged he had delayed calling an emergency Cobra meeting early in the pandemic over concerns Matt Hancock was trying to ‘make a splash’.
Messages from March 12, 2020 showed Lord Sedwill had discussed chickenpox with Christopher Wormald (pictured), the top civil servant at the Department of Health
He hesitated for two days over the then-health secretary’s request because he believed it may have been for ‘communications purposes’.
Lord Sedwill said he received a request on around January 21, 2020 from the DHSC for an emergency Cabinet Office meeting.
‘I felt that a Cobra which might have been convened primarily for communications purposes wasn’t wise,’ he said. ‘Two days later I was advised there was a genuine cross-government basis for it and I agreed.’
Lead counsel to the inquiry Hugo Keith KC asked him to be ‘plain’ in his speaking.
‘Were you concerned that the Cobra was being called by the DHSC for presentation purposes, that is to say to make a splash about the role of DHSC, perhaps its secretary of state, and that’s why you initially hesitated?’ he asked.
Lord Sedwill said: ‘That is a fair summary of my thinking.’
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