The Government was not prepared for a man-made virus and should have been quicker and firmer in its response, Michael Gove told the Covid Inquiry today.
The Minister for the Cabinet Office during the pandemic added that his view on the need for lockdowns changed at the end of February 2020 due to information supplied by “friends outside Government”.
His comments provide new support for the theory that Western Governments imposed lockdowns during March 2020 because its key decisionmakers were convinced that the virus was man-made and possibly an escaped bioweapon.
Mr. Gove said he initially shared Boris Johnson’s concerns about “overreacting” and the economic consequences.
At the very end of February I was inclined to give substantial weight to the Prime Minister’s concerns. It was only in the succeeding days that I became more and more convinced actually that action was required.
He said the introduction of lockdowns in parts of Italy had influenced him, but that it was “also material that had been sent to me by friends outside Government that led me to believe action was needed”.
Hugo Keith KC, Lead Counsel to the Inquiry, failed to ask Mr. Gove what this key “material from friends outside Government” was or who sent it to him.
The inquiry was also shown WhatsApp messages between Mr. Gove and Dominic Cummings, the Prime Minister’s then-most senior adviser, where Mr. Gove wrote on March 4th 2020 that “the whole situation is even worse than you think”:
You know me, I don’t often kick off. But we are f—ing up as a Government and missing golden opportunities. I will carry on doing what I can but the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we’ll regret it for a long time.
Mr. Gove told the Covid Inquiry that while “Covid was on my mind” the “principal thing that I was messaging about” was “the Cabinet Office overall, including its ability to deal with Covid”. However, the words used – “the whole situation is even worse than you think and action needs to be taken or we’ll regret it for a long time” – and the timing, shortly after being sent “material from friends outside Government” that persuaded him the virus threat warranted extreme restrictions, suggests that Covid may in fact have been the primary concern.
Mr. Gove added that the problem was the Government had not been prepared for a specifically man-made virus:
We were not well prepared as we should have been ideally. I think that is true. Again, it’s in the nature of the fact that the virus was novel and, indeed, I think this probably goes beyond the remit of the inquiry this, a significant body of judgement that believes that the virus itself was man-made and that presents sort of challenges as well.
While public statements from scientists from February 2020 onwards have attempted to play down the idea that the virus came from a lab, it has since emerged that behind the scenes scientists were very concerned about the possibility.
The Brownstone Institute’s Jeffrey Tucker has recorded how in early March 2020 – around the same time that Michael Gove was being passed the persuasive “material” – Tucker Carlson went with information from U.S. intelligence sources to tell then-U.S. President Donald Trump that he needed to take the threat from the virus much more seriously because it could be a bioweapon from China. (Carlson has since said that he very much regrets his role.)
It has long been a mystery why exactly Western Governments began in spring 2020 copying China in imposing extreme countermeasures against the novel coronavirus. While the emerging situation in northern Italy and pandemic-preparedness groupthink have provided plausible motives, they have not by themselves seemed adequate to account for the extraordinary way that Western Governments went all-in for unprecedented lockdowns during those critical three weeks. The idea that behind the scenes intelligence sources were pushing warnings that the virus was a deadly man-made biological agent warranting an extreme response has much to commend it as an explanation, the more so as time has passed. Michael Gove’s comments to the inquiry today have added to this.