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Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges his errors but stands by his COVID response.
Europe Science & Health

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledges his errors but stands by his COVID response.

During a public inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday, former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson stood by his actions and acknowledged that his government may have made some mistakes but maintained that they did their utmost.

Johnson was questioned under oath for two days by lawyers from the judge-led inquiry regarding his initial hesitancy to implement a nationwide lockdown in early 2020 and other significant choices.

Johnson began his statement by expressing remorse “for the hurt, loss, and anguish experienced by those affected by COVID,” but did not apologize for his own actions. As he spoke, four individuals in the courtroom stood up with signs reading: “The Deceased cannot hear your apologies,” and were subsequently escorted out by security personnel.

“Undoubtedly, during our efforts to manage a highly challenging pandemic, we had to weigh the devastating consequences on both sides of our decisions. It is possible that we may have made errors along the way,” stated Johnson. “However, I believe we were doing our utmost to address the situation at hand.”

Johnson arrived at the location of the inquiry early in the morning, several hours before his scheduled testimony, in order to avoid a demonstration by the family members of the victims.

The families of the 230,000 individuals in the U.K who passed away from the virus are seeking answers from the inquiry. A gathering of people, including some with photos of their loved ones, assembled outside the office building where the inquiry was taking place. A banner displayed a quote, allegedly said by Johnson’s aide, saying “Let the bodies pile high.” Another sign accused Johnson of partying while people were dying.

A van displaying a protest banner is parked outside the Covid-19 Inquiry in London, Dec. 6, 2023.

On December 6, 2023, a van with a banner protesting against Covid-19 was parked outside the Covid-19 Inquiry in London.

In the middle of 2022, Johnson’s own Conservative Party forced him to leave his position due to a series of ethical controversies. These included the disclosure that he and his staff hosted gatherings in the Prime Minister’s Downing Street office in 2020 and 2021, disregarding the government’s lockdown measures.

Former coworkers, assistants, and consultants have described a negative portrayal of Johnson and his administration during numerous testimonies over the course of several weeks.

Patrick Vallance, a previous Chief Scientific Adviser, stated that Johnson was “confused” by science. In diaries that have been reviewed as proof, Vallance additionally mentioned that Johnson was “fixated on older individuals accepting their destiny.” Dominic Cummings, a former adviser who is now a strong critic of Johnson, claimed that the prime minister had asked scientists if using a hair dryer up his nose could potentially kill the virus.

Helen McNamara, a former high-ranking government employee, characterized the culture within Johnson’s government as “toxic” and heavily focused on masculinity. Simon Case, the country’s highest-ranking civil servant, referred to Johnson and his close advisors as “essentially wild.”

Johnson stood up for his administration, stating that it consisted of individuals with “challenging” personalities whose opinions of each other may not be suitable for publication, but were able to accomplish a great deal.

The U.K. has one of the highest COVID-19 death tolls in Europe, with the virus recorded as a cause of death for more than 232,000 people.

Johnson expressed uncertainty about whether his administration’s choices had resulted in an increase in deaths. He acknowledged that determining when to implement lockdowns and other measures had been a difficult process.

“Individuals often emphasize the negative effects on education, economy, healthcare appointments for conditions like cancer and heart disease, and other consequences,” he explained. “The decision to prioritize public safety and the healthcare system while weighing the detrimental impacts of lockdown measures was extremely challenging.”

In late 2021, Johnson made a decision to conduct a public investigation due to intense pressure from families who lost loved ones. Retired Judge Heather Hallett will oversee the investigation, which is estimated to take three years to finish. However, interim reports will be released beginning next year.

The investigation is split into four parts, with the current segment centered on governmental decision-making. The initial phase, which ended in July, examined the nation’s readiness for the pandemic.

Johnson provided a written statement as evidence to the inquiry, but did not give access to approximately 5,000 WhatsApp messages from important weeks between February and June 2020. These messages were on a phone that Johnson was instructed to stop using after it was discovered that the phone number had been available online for a long time. Johnson later claimed he had forgotten the password to unlock the phone.

According to a spokesperson for Johnson, the ex-prime minister did not delete any messages. However, due to a technical problem, some messages were unable to be retrieved.