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Johnson suggested he ‘thought Covid was nature’s way of dealing with old people’

Former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance hit out in his diaries about ‘quite a bonkers set of exchanges’ featuring the ex-prime minister.

Sam Blewett
Tuesday 31 October 2023 13:32 GMT
Covid inquiry roundup: Lee Cain and Dominic Cummings provide worrying insight into No 10

Boris Johnson suggested he believed the coronavirus pandemic was “Nature’s way of dealing with old people” as he resisted lockdown measures, Sir Patrick Vallance argued.

The Government’s chief scientific adviser during Covid-19 wrote that the then-prime minister suggested he may have agreed with Conservatives that the “whole thing is pathetic”.

Sir Patrick hit out in his diaries about “quite a bonkers set of exchanges” featuring Mr Johnson, extracts shown to the official inquiry on Tuesday showed.

The adviser wrote in August 2020 that Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”.

“Quite bonkers set of exchanges,” he said, referring to the “PM WhatsApp group”.

Then, in December 2020, Sir Patrick wrote that Mr Johnson said he believed he had been “acting early” and that the “public are with him (but his party is not)”.

“He 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’. Wants to rely on polling. Then he says ‘We should move things to Tier 3 now’.”

I think he felt torn where the evidence on one side and public opinion and scientific evidence was very much caution, slow ... where media opinion and certainly the rump of the Tory Party was pushing him hard (in) the other direction

Ex-No 10 communications director Lee Cain

Lee Cain, who was Mr Johnson’s communications director in No 10, said the then-PM was indecisive over whether or not to impose a circuit-breaker lockdown in September 2020 because it was “very much against what’s in his political DNA”.

Mr Cain said his own research led him to believe that the public mood was more cautious, contrary to that of the Tory Party.

Counsel to the inquiry Andrew O’Connor asked: “And was this one of the factors that underpinned the prime minister’s indecision later in 2020, September/October time, whether or not to have a circuit-breaker lockdown?”

Mr Cain said: “Yes, it was. I think the prime minister was torn on this issue.

“I think, if he was in his previous role as a journalist, he would probably have been writing articles saying we should open up the beaches and how we should get ahead and be getting back.

“I think he felt torn where the evidence on one side and public opinion and scientific evidence was very much caution, slow – we’re almost certainly going to have to do another suppression measure, so we need to have that in mind – where media opinion and certainly the rump of the Tory Party was pushing him hard (in) the other direction.

“So I think that was partly the reason for the oscillation because the rigid measures were very much against what’s in his political DNA, I guess.”

Messages shown to the inquiry showed that on October 15, 2020, Mr Johnson stressed the need to “recalibrate” away from a nationwide lockdown because it was mainly elderly people dying.

“I must say I have been slightly rocked by some of the data on Covid fatalities”, he wrote.

“The median age is 82 – 81 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy.

“So get Covid and live longer.”

The then prime minister said “I no longer buy all this NHS overwhelmed stuff” and there were “max 3m (three million) in this country aged over 80”.

On Monday, the inquiry heard that Mr Johnson had, according to a note read from the diary of a former private secretary, asked why the economy was being destroyed “for people who will die anyway soon”, in the days before the country went into lockdown.

The diary note from Imran Shafi, which he attributed to Mr Johnson, stated: “We’re killing the patient to tackle the tumour. Large ppl (taken to mean large numbers of people) who will die, why are we destroying economy for people who will die anyway soon.”

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