Downing Street has denied claims that Dominic Cummings argued against draconian measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus even if it meant that pensioners would die.
The Prime Minister’s controversial top aide was reported as initially backing a strategy that health chiefs believe could have resulted in half a million UK deaths.
But a No 10 spokesman rejected the claim as a “highly defamatory fabrication” and suggested it included “invented” quotes.
The Sunday Times reported that Mr Cummings became convinced that Britain would be better able to resist a lethal second wave of the disease next winter if more than 60% of the population was infected.
The allegations, shared widely online, feed into claims that the focus on the public developing so-called “herd immunity” meant the Government was too slow to react.
No 10 has always denied this was their strategy, although it was mentioned by Chief Scientific Advisor Sir Patrick Vallance, insisting they were always planning tougher measures when the timing was right.
The newspaper claimed that at a private event at the end of February, Mr Cummings outlined the Government’s strategy, which those present claimed was “herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad”.
But at a meeting a couple of weeks later, science chiefs warned that without taking any protective measures the pandemic could kill 500,000 Brits, and aides were said to have realised they had to change course.
No 10 strongly denied the report.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “This is a highly defamatory fabrication which was not put to No10 by the Sunday Times before publication.
“The article also includes a series of apparent quotes from meetings which are invented”.
Ministers have since pushed social distancing and self-isolation and closed pubs, restaurants and gyms.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The absolute priority has to be saving lives and this must always be what is guiding the Government’s decisions.
“Attitudes like this will not be forgiven and people will be sickened by such comments. Boris Johnson needs to show the leadership that this crisis demands.
“We need clarity from government messages and ministers must channel all their energies into protecting people’s health, wellbeing and livelihoods.”