The government was so determined to downplay the effects of Covid that the then prime minister, Boris Johnson, asked to be injected with the virus on live TV. That was just one of the revelations to the UK Covid Inquiry, which continued to hear evidence this week.
Lord Lister, Johnson’s chief of staff from 2019 to 2021, also confirmed that he heard his boss saying that letting “the bodies pile high” was preferable to another lockdown.
Johnson has always denied making this statement, despite it being an argument made openly by the Tory right and its newspapers. It was their anger at measures designed to stop the spread of Covid that delayed vital lockdowns.
The inquiry also heard more on the chaos that gripped the centre of government as the pandemic worsened. Messages given to the inquiry detail growing frustration among those charged with ensuring public safety.
Simon Case, the head of the civil service, said of his Downing Street colleagues, “I’ve never seen a bunch of people less well-equipped to run the country.”
Entries from the 2020 diaries of Sir Patrick Vallance revealed that the then chief scientific advisor felt Johnson was “all over the place” on a second lockdown. His notes say Johnson and Rishi Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, were both “clutching at straws” while arguing against a second lockdown in October 2020.
Vallance describes a meeting on 8 October as “very bad”. After being shown the final slide in a presentation by the Covid 19 Taskforce, Vallance wrote that Mr Johnson responded, “Whisky and revolver.”
“He was all over the place”, Vallance says, adding that Sunak was using “increasingly specific and spurious arguments against closing hospitality”.
But it wasn’t just Johnson and Sunak that were happy to spread the deadly virus. Lord Sedwill, the cabinet secretary when the pandemic started, was happy to go along with the rest of them. He was forced to apologise for suggesting that so-called “chicken pox parties” could help build immunity to the virus.
In the past, parents sometimes held such events to expose their children to the infection, in order for them to become immune from it in later life.
But Covid was never chicken pox or simple flu—it was always a killer disease. By January 2020, evidence coming from China made that abundantly clear. Speaking to the inquiry, Sedwill said, “These were private exchanges, and I certainly had not expected for this to become public.”
The stream of revelations to the inquiry all point in the same direction.
Tory ideology meant they were content to let millions of older and more vulnerable people die an early death—as long as the wheels of commerce continued turning.
And, those loathsome politics were compounded by the chaotic mess that was the Johnson administration. It included his then chancellor, and the now prime minister, Rishi Sunak.