Dominic Cummings has said Boris Johnson initially considered COVID a "scare story" like swine flu.
Boris Johnson’s former adviser kicked off a morning of questioning by MPs over the lessons learnt from the pandemic by saying the government did not do as much as it could in the early months of 2020.
Explaining why Mr Johnson did not attend the COBRA meetings at the start of last year, he said: "The prime minister described it as the new swine flu, I certainly told him it wasn’t.
"The view from No 10 was if the PM chairs COBRA and says it’s just swine flu that would not help."
He added that the PM wanted to be injected with the coronavirus live on TV by chief medical officer Chris Whitty to show it was not harmful.
Some of the main points from Mr Cummings:
• He, the cabinet secretary and other senior officials called for the PM to fire Matt Hancock as health secretary for "at least 15-20 things, including lying"
• Chancellor Rishi Sunak supported locking down, it was the PM who did not think the pandemic "was the big danger"
• It is "crackers" that people like Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn were the only two options at the last general election
• "It is crazy I should have been in such a senior position, I’m not smart, I’ve not built great things in the world – neither is the PM" – and he said he and the PM let down brilliant junior colleagues
• There was no plan for financial help for people and the Chancellor and his team had to create the whole scheme in a few days
• There was no plan for shielding in the pandemic plan but some "brilliant" officials in the Department of Health hacked together a plan in two all-nighters
• "Group think" prevented ministers and officials from realising how severe the situation was going to get.
Mr Cummings also said the government failed the public when they needed them most and apologised to the families of those who died in the early days of the pandemic.
Taking some of the blame himself, he started off the session by saying: "The truth is, senior minister, officials, advisers like me fell disastrously short of standards required by the public.
"When the public needed us the most, the government failed. I want to apologise to all those families who had people that died.
"I did think oh my god, is this what people have been warning about all this time?
"However, PHE, WHO, CDC, organisations across the western world were not ringing the alarm bells about it then.
"In retrospect, it’s completely obvious that many institutions failed."