The government had a “herd immunity” strategy at the start of the coronavirus pandemic to tackle the outbreak, Jeremy Corbyn has claimed.
The former Labour leader said he had a briefing at the Cabinet Office and was given a “lecture” about the plan.
Mr Corbyn claimed “allowing people to die” was the “absurd” official policy at the time.
But the government said it was “categorically wrong to suggest herd immunity was [its] aim”.
The government gave regular briefings to opposition leaders at the start of the pandemic.
Mr Corbyn stood down as Labour leader on 4 April, when Sir Keir Starmer won the contest to replace him.
In an interview with left-wing magazine Tribune’s A World to Win podcast, Mr Corbyn said he and Labour’s shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, had been given an update on the coronavirus outbreak by officials.
He told the podcast: “I distinctly remember Jon Ashworth and I going to a meeting at the Cabinet Office where we got a lecture about herd immunity… the last time I discussed herd immunity had been when I worked on a pig farm 40 years ago.
“It was absurd, that you’d build up herd immunity by allowing people to die.
“And so, while the government was going into eugenic formulas of discussing all this stuff, they were not making adequate preparations.”
Mr Ashworth declined to comment on the meeting, which was held under Privy Council rules, meaning the participants are not meant to discuss what was said.
Herd immunity was discussed by the government’s chief scientific adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, at a press conference on 12 March – 11 days before a UK-wide lockdown was imposed.
He said: “It’s not possible to stop everybody getting it and it’s also actually not desirable, because you want some immunity in the population. We need immunity to protect ourselves from this in the future.”
But the government has persistently denied herd immunity was ever its official strategy for handling the pandemic – and denied Mr Corbyn’s claims.
A government spokeswoman said: “Our goal is to reduce the impact of coronavirus – protecting the most vulnerable and ensuring our NHS and social care system has capacity to cope, while leading the world on scientific research into therapeutics and a vaccine.
“This is an unprecedented global pandemic – our strategy was clearly set out and guided at every stage by the advice of scientific experts.”
The spokeswoman added: “Our response ensured the NHS was not overwhelmed even at the virus’ peak, so that everyone was always able to get the best possible care.”