LONDON – On the night of March 26, 2020, as the coronavirus engulfed Britain and its leaders struggled to create a response, Prime Minister Boris Johnson ridiculed his government health secretary with a swear word that was completely “hopeless” according to a text message sent by his former chief adviser.
The WhatsApp message, one of several texts shared on Wednesday by Mr. Johnson’s former aide, Dominic Cummings, resumed a debate on how Britain handled the early days of the pandemic – a period in which Mr. Cummings said it went from one course to another and failed to set up an effective test-and-trace program.
The WhatsApp messages and an accompanying 7,000-word blog post are the former assistant’s attempt to do so. They portray a government under relentless stress, struggle to secure fans and protective equipment, upscale a test program, and decide on the right strategy to prevent the country’s hospitals from collapsing.
In the text exchange with Mr. Johnson on March 26 noted Mr. Cummings that the United States went from testing 2,200 people a day to 100,000 in two weeks. He said that Mr. Hancock was “skeptical” about being able to test even 10,000 a day, despite the fact that he had promised to reach this goal within a few days two days earlier.
The exchange prompted Mr. Johnson’s insane description of Mr. Hancock, whom he accompanied by a series of calls after midnight to Mr. Cummings that the assistant did not pick up. Sir. Cummings said Johnson tried to contact him to tell him that he himself had just tested positive for the virus.
It triggered a tumultuous period in which Mr. Johnson became seriously ill with Covid-19 and ended up in an intensive care unit while his government struggled to contain a virus that exploded across the country. In a way, Mr Cummings said, the situation improved: Mr Johnson replaced his Secretary of State Dominic Raab to chair meetings in his absence, and Mr Raab did better.
“Raab can lead meetings properly instead of telling wandering stories and jokes,” wrote Mr. Cummings. “He actually let good officials question people, so we started to get to the truth, unlike the Prime Minister, who as soon as things get ‘a little embarrassing’ does it all ‘let’s take it offline’ schtick before he shouts ‘forward’ to victory ‘, makes a thumb up and pointed it out of the room before anyone can disagree. ”
Mr. Cummings is hardly an objective observer. He and Mr Johnson had a bitter outcome a year after Mr Cummings’ masterminded the election campaign, which gave Mr Johnson’s Conservative party a 80-seat majority in parliament. Sir. Johnson fired him last November, and the assistant recently led a kind of guerrilla rebellion against his former boss on social media.
Public support for Mr. Johnson has remained strong as Britain recovered well after its shaky start to implementing vaccines quickly. Mr. Cummings, for his part, has been dishonest since last year when reports came in that he had violated the rules of locking to travel 260 miles to his parents’ house in the north of England.
The screenshots of WhatsApp texts offer only a fragmentary account of what happened in Downing Street 10 during this period. Mr. Hancock argued that there was never a nationwide shortage of protective equipment, that the test system eventually worked, and that everyone who needed treatment for Covid-19 got it.
In his testimony, Mr Hancock said he did not know why Mr Cummings carried such an animus against him. He said he was aware that Mr. Cummings agitated to get him fired. But he insisted that Mr. Johnson had never wavered in his support, pointing out that it was Mr. Cummings who lost his job.
“The best thing to say about this, and this will be confirmed by many people in the government, is that the government has functioned better over the last six months,” Mr Hancock told a parliamentary committee.
Sir. Cummings was still the core of the Covid response, and his WhatsApp texts with Mr. Johnson is a real-time glimpse of how the government handled it. He accused Mr. Hancock for rewriting the story, noting that Britain initially gave up testing society before reintroducing it with Mr. Hancock’s highly trumpeted goal of 100,000 tests a day by the end of April 2020.
Devi Sridhar, head of the global public health program at the University of Edinburgh, said the latest information “reinforces that test capacity was a bottleneck, even though they never admitted it publicly.” But Professor Sridhar said she doubted that “a large majority of the British public is interested in these exchanges. They want Covid to be done, their vaccines and their lives to continue. ”
In fact, the information from Mr. Cummings largely designed to shape the narrative ahead of a parliamentary inquiry into how the government handled the pandemic, which he predicted would not end until Mr Johnson left office.
Sir. Cummings cited two other incidents which he said demonstrated Mr. Johnson’s lack of faith in his health secretary. On March 27 last year, as hospitals were filling up, Mr Cummings sent a text message to the Prime Minister saying the government had rejected offers to buy fans because suppliers had raised their prices.
“It’s Hancock,” Johnson replied. “He’s been hopeless.”
A month later, Mr. Cummings and Mr. Johnson again texts in the evening, this time about the lack of face masks and other personal protective equipment in hospitals. The prime minister floated the idea of handing over responsibility for it to another cabinet minister, Michael Gove.
“It’s a disaster,” wrote Mr. Johnson. “I can think of nothing but taking Hancock off and putting Gove on.”