The prime minister didn’t have the right “skill set” to handle the pandemic, an independent hearing has been told
Former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was fixated throughout the Covid-19 crisis on elderly people accepting their fate and saw the virus as “nature’s way of dealing with old people,” an inquiry into Downing Street’s handling of the pandemic has heard.
At a Tuesday hearing as part of the government’s inquest into Covid-19, notes from Johnson’s top science adviser, Patrick Vallance, were shared, which detailed what the aide viewed as Johnson’s “obsession” with older people accepting risks as they related to the potentially fatal virus.
The notes, dated from August 2020, detailed Vallance’s opinion that Johnson was keen to let “the young get on with life and [keep] the economy going” – which Vallance described at the time as a “quite bonkers set of exchanges.”
Vallance added in the notes: “[Johnson] says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just nature’s way of dealing with old people, and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them. A lot of moderate people think it is a bit too much.’ [He] wants to rely on polling.”
The notes were shared during evidence given to the UK Covid-19 inquiry by Johnson’s former director of communications, Lee Cain, as part of the independent investigation into London’s response to the pandemic.
Cain told the hearing that Johnson was reluctant to impose a so-called ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to inhibit the spread of the virus in September 2020, as this was “very much against what’s in his political DNA.” However, Cain added that his own research had indicated that the UK public’s overall desire was for a more cautious approach.
Cain added that Johnson would frequently “oscillate” between different Covid policy decisions, delaying the government’s ability to effectively respond to the pandemic, which he said he found “rather exhausting from time to time.”
“What would probably be clear in Covid,” Cain said when asked at the hearing if Johnson was the right person to lead the UK through the pandemic, “It was wrong for this prime minister’s skill set.”
Johnson’s apparent indecisiveness, as revealed in Vallance’s notes, felt like being “punched in the stomach,” said Brenda Doherty, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice UK, according to the BBC on Tuesday.
“During the first and second waves of the pandemic the UK had one of the highest death tolls per person in the world from Covid-19 and it’s clear just how personally responsible for that he was,” Doherty said.
Johnson, who announced the inquiry during his prime ministership in May 2021, has not commented publicly on the evidence detailed at the hearings this week, but a spokesperson said the former PM is “cooperating fully” with the inquiry. Johnson, as well as current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, are expected to give evidence later this year.
Per the data available online, 230,669 people have died from Covid-19 in the United Kingdom. The majority of deaths involved people aged 75 or over.