Mandarin sorry for ‘chickenpox parties’ remark
THE former head of the civil service has apologised for his ‘heartless’ suggestion of using ‘chickenpox parties’ to deal with the pandemic.
Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary during the first stage of the Covid crisis, admitted he put forward the ‘herd immunity’ approach of allowing people to become infected in early March 2020 as the virus tore through the UK.
But he said he only referred to the idea of the ‘parties’ – based on the practice of holding playdates for children to catch chickenpox – as a means of protecting the vulnerable while others developed immunity to coronavirus. More than 225,000 people in the UK died with Covid.
Giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry yesterday, Lord Sedwill said: ‘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.
‘It was inevitable that the virus would spread through the population. And what I was trying to examine was the right way of managing that – given its highly differential impact – that ensured that it spread through those for whom the disease was likely to be unpleasant rather than dangerous, and that we could quarantine and shield those for whom it would be dangerous.’
Addressing family members of those affected by Covid at the hearing in London, Lord Sedwill said: ‘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.’
He described the comments as ‘ private exchanges’, although Dominic Cummings, the former No 10 chief of staff, made public reference to them in 2021.
Lord Sedwill quit as Cabinet Secretary in September 2020 and was replaced by Simon Case. The inquiry continues.