Before his explosive evidence to MPs about lessons from the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings tweeted a photo of the whiteboard used to plan the government’s initial response, providing a bleak insight into the frenzied planning that was taking place on 13 March 2020.
1. ‘No vaccine in 2020’
At the top of the whiteboard are the names of some key people involved including the prime minister, Boris Johnson, the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief medical officer for England, Chris Whitty, Cummings himself, and Ben Warner, a data scientist from the Vote Leave campaign.
In this meeting, it is clear they were working on the assumption that there would be no vaccine in 2020.
2. ‘Must avoid NHS collapse’
At this point, the fear that the NHS would be overwhelmed and unable to cope was palpable.
3. ‘We will probably have to “lockdown”, which would mean everyone stays at home and pubs etc close’
But beneath this is another scrawl – “[except critical infrastructure people]” – meaning hundreds of thousands of essential workers would still be expected to go out to work.
The board then notes: “Our current ‘plan’ means 4k p/d dying @peak.”
The “plan” referred to here appears to be the government’s strategy published on 3 March, to contain, delay and mitigate the virus.
Less than a fortnight after that publication, it suggests that the plan would result in an estimated 4,000 people dying every day and “collapse” in the NHS.
4. ‘Who looks after the people who can’t survive alone?’
In his evidence to the parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday, Cummings said there was no plan for those people who were shielding because they were clinically vulnerable.
5. ‘What is the difference between plan A and plan B?’
Here is the outline for plan B, which would see a “full lockdown”, working on the estimate that this would then result in the UK seeing similar cases to Italy in two weeks’ time.
6. ‘Who do we not save?’
The final line of the board is perhaps the most chilling. And while the NHS was not, in the end, completely overwhelmed, in March a report by England’s care regulator identified some blanket orders not to resuscitate some care home residents at the start of the Covid pandemic.