COVID inquiry: Boris Johnson denies backing ‘let virus rip’ strategy in autumn 2020 | Politics News

Boris Johnson has denied advocating a “let the virus rip” approach in which older people would have to “accept their fate” during the autumn of 2020.

The former prime minister told the COVID inquiry his strategy during the pandemic was to save lives “at all ages” and “that is what we did”.

Day two of his evidence also heard:

• Mr Johnson called the partygate scandal a “travesty of the truth”
• He “fought and fought” to keep schools open during the third wave in 2021 but the Alpha variant made lockdown “inevitable”
• Eat Out to Help Out was not seen as a “gamble” at the time and he was “perplexed” at suggestion top scientists were unaware of the scheme
• He refused to accept the first lockdown, and other restrictions later in 2020, came too late

Politics Live: Johnson questioned on ‘let the virus rip’ comments

The ex-Tory leader was shown extracts from the diaries of former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance which described Mr Johnson as saying, on multiple occasions in the second half of 2020, the government should “let it rip” (the virus) through the population.

In one entry, describing a meeting on 25 October as COVID resurged, Sir Patrick wrote that the then PM had begun “to argue for letting it rip. Saying ‘yes there will be more casualties but so be it…they’ve had a good innings'”.

Sir Patrick said Mr Johnson was “very frustrated… throwing papers down and going back on to ‘most people who die have reached their time anyway'”.

In another entry from October, the top scientist said Mr Johnson was “obsessed with average age of death being 82”.

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Boris Johnson questioned over partygate

In a third entry, he said Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”.

Mr Johnson firmly denied that the extracts represented a glimpse into a government that favoured no national lockdown “until the last possible moment” and instead backed a tiered system.

In an angry exchange, he accused the barrister questioning him, Hugo Keith KC, of “culling accounts” from people’s “jottings in meetings”.

He said: “If you look at what we actually did, we went into lockdown as soon as we could for the first time round.

“We sensibly went for a regional approach when the disease picked up again, and then again went into lockdown on October 30/31.

“I think, frankly, it does not do justice to what we did – our thoughts, our feeling, my thoughts, my feelings, to say that we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country or that I believed that it was acceptable to let it rip.”

He added: “My position was that we had to save human life at all ages.”

Mr Johnson’s attitude towards older people has previously come under the spotlight, with witnesses to the inquiry claiming he did say “let the bodies pile high” to argue against another lockdown and that COVID was “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.

Echoing arguments he made on Wednesday – the first of his two-day evidence session – he said he had to “challenge” the consensus in meetings to get the best out of his advisers and that letting the virus rip was a “phrase that was common parlance at the time”.

Read More:
Boris Johnson evidence – key moments from day one

The evidence pointed to failures in leadership

Mr Johnson was also quizzed over the partygate scandal, calling the public characterisation of rampant rule breaking in Downing Street a “travesty of the truth”.

The former PM – who quit parliament in light of the investigation which found he lied to MPs over the matter – said he was speaking on behalf of “hundreds and hundreds of hard working civil servants who thought that they were following the rules”.

He said that the “characterisation, the representation, has been of what civil servants and advisers were doing in Number 10 has been a travesty of the truth”.

Elsewhere in the hearing, he was asked about the timing of all the lockdowns announced in 2020 and refused to accept any of them came too late.

“What I wouldn’t accept is that all the decisions in September, October, November (2020) were too late,” he said.

“Nor would I accept, knowing what we did then, that the decision in March (2020) was too late.”

There were also plenty of questions about Mr Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which scientists have said they weren’t consulted on and helped fuel the second wave of the virus

Mr Johnson said it was not presented to him as a gamble at the time and repeatedly said he did not understand how the plan could have been “smuggled past” the scientists.

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