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Dominic Cummings has said the government fell "disastrously short" in dealing with coronavirus.

Giving evidence to MPs on the handling of the pandemic, the PM's ex-chief adviser said the UK had failed to "hear the alarm bells" when the virus hit other countries early last year.

He claimed he had urged Boris Johnson to bring in a lockdown by mid-March, but there was "no plan" to enable this.

Downing Street said its "priority" had always been to save lives.

Mr Cummings is being questioned by the Health and Science select committees on the government response to the pandemic.

He told the MPs that "senior ministers, senior officials, senior advisers like me fell disastrously short" of what the "public expects during a crisis like this".

He apologised for the "mistakes that were made", saying: "I'd like to say to all the families of those who died unnecessarily how sorry I am."

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Mr Cummings said there had been "thousands and thousands of better people" in the UK to lead the country than Mr Johnson and his Labour rival when the crisis broke, Jeremy Corbyn.

He likened the management of government officials and those on the front line during the crisis to "lions" being "led by donkeys".

And Mr Cummings revealed that he had called on Mr Johnson to sack Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

More than 127,000 people diagnosed with coronavirus have died in the UK since the start of the pandemic.

Earlier, Mr Cummings tweeted a picture of a whiteboard on which the government's "plan B" for the first wave of the virus was sketched out.

He told the MPs the original plan had been for limited intervention, with the hope of achieving "herd immunity", but that was abandoned when it became clear the scale of the death toll that would result.


media captionDominic Cummings tells MPs about Covid planning, the US wanting to bomb Iraq and the PM's girlfriend
He added that, by mid-March, there was still "pushback in the system" against telling people to stay at home to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

And there was not "proper scrutiny" of decisions taken by the Sage committee of scientists, Mr Cummings said.

By 11 to 12 March things had "already gone wrong", he told the MPs, while there had been a "false" assumption within government that people would reject a lockdown.

A meeting of the government's emergency Cobra committee on 12 March had been disrupted by US President Donald Trump wanting to start a "bombing campaign" against Iraq, Mr Cummings said.

At the same time, he added, Mr Johnson's partner Carrie Symonds was "going crackers" about a "completely trivial" story in the Times regarding the dog she co-owned with the prime minister.

The UK went into lockdown on 23 March last year, amid spiralling infection rates.

'Panic button'
But Mr Cummings said the government had not been on a "war footing" by February, when cases were increasing quickly in other parts of the world, adding: "Lots of key people were literally skiing in the beginning of February.

"In retrospect I should have been hitting the panic button much more than I was in February."

Mr Cummings added that he and others had been "wrongly reassured" about the situation by the World Health Organization.

But he said: "On the 14th (of March) we told the prime minister 'You are going to have to lock down'."

However, there was "no plan" in place to bring this about, Mr Cummings claimed, adding that he was "terribly sorry" he had not made the suggestion earlier.

"But it just seemed like such a massive thing", he said, calling the situation at the time "surreal" and "like an out-of-control movie".

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