Boris Johnson recalls his own hospital ordeal and says it is ‘simply not right’ to claim he didn’t care about other people’s suffering in an emotional second day of evidence at the Covid Inquiry

Boris Johnson yesterday launched an emotional defence of his handling of the pandemic, saying it was ‘simply not right’ to claim that he didn’t care about people’s suffering.

Appearing before the Covid Inquiry for a second day, the former PM again looked close to tears as he recalled coming close to losing his own life to the virus.

And he insisted that his traumatic experience meant that he knew ‘what an appalling disease this is’.

Lead counsel to the inquiry, Hugo Keith KC, quizzed Mr Johnson about rule breaking in No 10 during the pandemic and put it to the former PM that ‘you knew how it would look but you didn’t care that much’.

But it sparked a fierce response from Mr Johnson, who replied: ‘I did care and I continue to get passionate about it.

Boris Johnson (pictured) yesterday launched an emotional defence of his handling of the pandemic

Appearing before the Covid Inquiry for a second day, the former PM (pictured) again looked close to tears as he recalled coming close to losing his own life to the virus

Appearing before the Covid Inquiry for a second day, the former PM (pictured) again looked close to tears as he recalled coming close to losing his own life to the virus

‘And I haven’t talked about this before in public… When I went into intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. In fact, they were middle aged men and they were quite like me.

‘And some of us were going to make it and some of us weren’t…I knew from that experience what an appalling disease this is.

‘To say that I didn’t care about the suffering that was being inflicted on the country is simply not right.’

In one eyebrow-raising moment, a WhatsApp message sent in August 2020 from Mr Johnson to his former chief adviser Dominic Cummings was revealed in which he criticised his own mask policy.

It said: ‘I am trying to make sense of our totally f***** up face mask policy.’ As he wrapped up his evidence last night, Baroness Hallett thanked Mr Johnson for his time and said she knows ‘how hard it must be to have two days giving evidence’.

Mr Johnson replied: ‘I’m rather sad that it’s over.’

Giving his ‘final thoughts’, he said although he was aware that ‘it’s out of your scope’, he told Baroness Hallett he hoped further inquiries could explore where Covid-19 originated, after Michael Gove was slapped down for referencing suggestion it may be ‘man-made’.

He called for ‘some sort of prod to the world to get the answer to the real origins of Covid’. Baroness Hallett, however, reminded him that he established the inquiry, adding: ‘You set my terms of reference Mr Johnson.’ Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will now give evidence on Monday, it was announced. Yesterday the inquiry also heard about:

EAT OUT TO HELP OUT

Mr Johnson defended then-chancellor Mr Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, saying there was no ‘substantial evidence’ it caused a spike in infections. 

The inquiry has previously heard that Chief Medical Officer Sir Chris Whitty had branded the scheme, designed to support the hospitality sector in August 2020, ‘Eat Out to Help the Virus Out’.

But Mr Johnson denied it was an ‘epidemiological gamble’ to press ahead with it, adding: ‘I don’t think that I thought that scheme in itself was a particular gamble at the time.

Mr Johnson defended then-chancellor Mr Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, saying there was no ‘substantial evidence’ it caused a spike in infections (file image)

Mr Johnson defended then-chancellor Mr Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, saying there was no ‘substantial evidence’ it caused a spike in infections (file image)

‘It certainly wasn’t presented to me as such, nor am I confident that there is very substantial evidence that it did indeed add to the [infection rate]… I can’t see anything that conclusively shows that it made a big difference.’

TIER SYSTEM INSTEAD OF ‘CIRCUIT BREAKER’

Mr Johnson was asked why he ignored the advice of scientists in September 2020 to have a two-week national lockdown, referred to as a ‘circuit breaker’, and instead opted for a tier system which started in October.

The former PM said that he went for the latter because officials were trying to ‘respect and reflect the geography’ of differing infection rates across regions after the first lockdown ended.

There was no point in ‘closing hospitality in Devon and Cornwall because of whatever is happening in the West Midlands or elsewhere’, he said.

He also insisted that advice about a two-week circuit breaker was ‘not clear’ and that although there was support among scientists, it was not backed by then health secretary Matt Hancock, who was ‘normally among the toughest in wanting to impose lockdowns’. 

Mr Johnson (pictured) conceded that the tier system ultimately failed, saying he was ‘sad’ about that, with the second lockdown imposed weeks later

Mr Johnson (pictured) conceded that the tier system ultimately failed, saying he was ‘sad’ about that, with the second lockdown imposed weeks later

Mr Johnson added: ‘There were question marks about the circuit breaker and its efficacy and where it was tried in Wales, it wasn’t clear that it actually worked… there were perhaps legitimate grounds for thinking a circuit breaker was not a panacea.’

He conceded that the tier system ultimately failed, saying he was ‘sad’ about that, with the second lockdown imposed weeks later.

‘LET IT RIP’

The former prime minister was confronted about entries in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries in which the Chief Scientific Adviser suggested that by autumn 2020 the ex-PM wanted to ‘let it rip’.

Mr Johnson firmly denied that this was his preferred option and said that during meetings he had been testing ‘counter arguments’ to imposing more restrictions.

Mr Keith asked: ‘Was your position, Mr Johnson, that in light of your views secretly held about people dying having reached their time anyway, that you were obliged to reject the advice that there be a circuit breaker and no lockdown and try a tier system?’

Mr Johnson said: ‘No. The implication you’re trying to draw is completely wrong and my position was that we had to save human life at all ages and that was the objective of the strategy.

The former prime minister (pictured) was confronted about entries in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries in which the Chief Scientific Adviser suggested that by autumn 2020 the ex-PM wanted to ‘let it rip’

The former prime minister (pictured) was confronted about entries in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries in which the Chief Scientific Adviser suggested that by autumn 2020 the ex-PM wanted to ‘let it rip’

‘If you look at what we actually did… never mind the accounts you have culled from people’s jottings [in diaries]… what we actually did, we went into lockdown as soon as we could first time around [in March], and we sensibly went for a regional approach when the disease picked up again, and again went into lockdown on 30 to 31 October.’

He added: ‘Frankly, it does not do justice… to say that we were remotely reconciled to fatalities across the country or that I believed it was acceptable to “let it rip”.’

DOMINIC CUMMINGS SAGA A ‘BAD MOMENT’

Mr Johnson was questioned about his chief adviser Dominic Cummings in Easter 2020 travelling from London to Durham, before driving to Barnard Castle to infamously ‘test his eyesight’ after contracting Covid-19.

It was put to the former PM that he supported Mr Cummings when allegations he had broken the rules emerged in May, with Mr Keith insisting that confidence in Mr Johnson’s administration ‘dipped significantly’.

Mr Johnson said: ‘It was a bad moment, I won’t pretend otherwise.’ But he dismissed the idea that this led to a fall in compliance with lockdown rules because of a loss of confidence in his administration.

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