Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has defended himself against allegations of indecision during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. In his written evidence to the Covid inquiry, Johnson acknowledged the challenging task of balancing public health concerns with the economic impact of imposing lockdown measures.
The former prime minister stated that he had grappled with the decision to enforce the first lockdown in March 2020, torn between saving lives and the potential economic harm it could cause the UK. Johnson's evidence indicated that he had questioned whether lockdown measures might have done more harm than good, considering the severe consequences for the economy. He revealed that he had engaged in internal debates, both with himself and with colleagues, regarding the necessity and implications of the lockdown.
Johnson’s evidence seemed to align with notes from his aide, Imran Shafi, who recalled Johnson's concerns that imposing lockdowns might have been akin to "killing the patient to tackle the tumour." The former prime minister's approach, described as oscillating, was characterized by moments of uncertainty, which, according to witnesses, frustrated his staff.
While Johnson acknowledged his concerns about the economic damage caused by stringent measures against COVID-19, he emphasized that he always prioritized human life and public health. He maintained that, given the circumstances, there were limited choices available, and every decision had to be weighed carefully in terms of the harm it might cause.
Despite Johnson's defence, his former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, characterized the ex-prime minister's indecision as akin to a "wobbly shopping trolley." Cummings, testifying before the inquiry, highlighted instances where Johnson's wavering stance made it challenging to push for specific actions, emphasizing the unpredictability of the former leader's decisions.
Cummings also revealed a peculiar incident where Johnson reportedly asked medical and scientific advisers if COVID-19 could be eradicated by blowing a "special hairdryer" up the nose. Additionally, diary notes from Chief Scientist Sir Patrick Vallance indicated concerns about Johnson's fixation on older people accepting their fate, raising further questions about the decision-making process during the crisis.
Lee Cain, Johnson’s communications director, echoed similar sentiments, noting the prime minister's tendency to oscillate between lockdown and other policy options. Cain described Johnson as a challenging character to work with, emphasizing the prime minister's propensity to change his stance based on the last input received.
Boris Johnson is scheduled to appear before the Covid inquiry in December, where he will likely face further scrutiny regarding his decision-making process during the early stages of the pandemic. The inquiry continues to examine the UK government's handling of the crisis, aiming to provide a comprehensive understanding of the events and decisions that shaped the country's response to the pandemic.
Image Credited: Chris J. Ratcliffe/Bloomberg
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