Boris Johnson apologises for 'loss and suffering' caused by pandemic

Boris Johnson apologises for all the ‘loss and suffering’ caused by the pandemic at the Covid Inquiry, but insists he did his ‘level best’ to save lives

  • The former Prime Minister acknowledged that ‘mistakes’ had been made 
  • He said he should have ‘twigged sooner’ that the virus could trigger a pandemic

Boris Johnson apologised yesterday for the ‘loss and suffering’ caused by the Covid pandemic – but insisted he did his ‘level best’ to protect lives.

In a highly charged appearance at the Covid inquiry, the former prime minister acknowledged ‘mistakes’ had been made, and said he ‘should have twigged sooner’ that the virus could trigger a once-in-a-century pandemic.

But he said the ‘entire Whitehall establishment’ had underestimated the ‘scale and the pace of the challenge’. He said it was only when he saw the ‘horrors’ of the outbreak in Italy in February 2020 that he realised its seriousness.

Mr Johnson started yesterday’s hearing by saying: ‘Can I just say how glad I am to be at this inquiry and how sorry I am for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the Covid victims?’

Inquiry chairman Baroness Hallett was forced to interrupt his statement to order the removal of four women from the public gallery who stood up holding signs saying: ‘The dead can’t hear your apologies.’ Mr Johnson appeared emotional as he recalled the events of 2020. ‘We have to be realistic about 2020,’ he said. ‘That whole tragic, tragic year. We did lock down but then it bounced back up after we’d unlocked.’

Boris Johnson (pictured) opened his evidence by saying how ‘deeply sorry’ he was for the ‘pain, the loss and the suffering’ of people who lost loved ones in the Covid-19 ­pandemic

Mr Johnson (pictured during pandemic press conference in February 2021) said he was wrongly advised until mid-March that people were unlikely to have Covid-19 unless they had symptoms

He said with hindsight it ‘may be easy to see things that we could have done differently’, but added: ‘At the time, I felt that we were doing our best in very difficult circumstances to protect life and protect the NHS.’

Mr Johnson defended the timing of the first lockdown. He revealed that government scientists had warned him against entering lockdown ‘too soon’, because of concerns the public would not be willing to follow restrictions for long.

But he said that by the middle of March the Government had run out of ‘wiggle room’.

On the first of two days of evidence, Mr Johnson:

  • Defended his style of government, saying that the presence of ‘challenging’ individuals such as Dominic Cummings made the administration more effective;
  •  Apologised for describing long Covid as ‘b*****ks’ and likening it to Gulf War Syndrome
  •  Revealed he had contacted then-deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara to apologise for not reprimanding Mr Cummings for a misogynistic rant against her;
  • Had several prickly exchanges with inquiry counsel Hugo Keith, who had to correct himself after wrongly claiming the UK had one of the highest rates of excess deaths in Europe;
  •  Confirmed he had considered sacking Matt Hancock, but defended the conduct of the former health secretary;
  • Said he regretted boasting about shaking hands with patients at a hospital after he had been advised to tell the public to start reducing their contact with others.

Mr Johnson pictured arriving to give evidence on Wednesday, during which he was questioned for six hours 

Mr Johnson said that when he was first informed about Covid it was ‘a cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man’s hand… you didn’t know if it was going to turn into a typhoon or not’

Mr Johnson (pictured) denied so-called ‘herd immunity’ was ever his Government’s strategy for dealing with the virus

Mr Johnson said that when he was first informed about Covid it was ‘a cloud on the horizon no bigger than a man’s hand… you didn’t know if it was going to turn into a typhoon or not’.

He suggested the experience of previous diseases such as Sars and swine flu had clouded officials’ judgment – and pointed out that a full-blown pandemic was ‘outside our living experience’.

READ MORE: Boris Johnson is grilled for six hours at the Covid Inquiry, with the former PM quizzed on everything from an allegedly ‘toxic’ culture in No 10 during the pandemic to why lockdown happened when it did. DAVID CHURCHILL reports on the long-awaited showdown

‘When you read that an Asiatic pandemic is about to sweep the world, you think you’ve heard it before. And that was the problem,’ he said.

‘But I think it’d be fair to say that the scientific community within Whitehall at that stage was not telling us that… this was something that was going to require urgent and immediate action.’

The former prime minister has come under fire at the inquiry for delaying decisions to impose lockdowns, and for questioning the impact on the economy. But he said that the scientific advice he received had been ever-changing and sometimes contradictory.

He said advisers in the early days had been ‘saying expressly that if you go hard too soon you have two problems: behavioural fatigue and bounce-back’.

‘My anxiety was, in the absence of therapeutics and without a vaccination programme, what would happen if we simply went into a hard lockdown early and then had no alternative but to come out?’ he said.

The former PM also played down concerns about hostile messages sent by Mr Cummings and other senior advisers, and suggested that the infighting had been comparable to that seen in previous governments.

He acknowledged that many officials had been ‘pretty frazzled’ but said his government was not alone in having ‘a lot of challenging characters whose views about each other might not be fit to print but who got a lot done’. 

He will return to the inquiry today.

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