British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sought to avoid a second lockdown last autumn, arguing that most of those dying were over 80, according to his former aide-turned bitter foe Dominic Cummings.
In a BBC interview airing on Tuesday, the mastermind of Johnson’s anti-EU Brexit campaign said his former boss “put his own political interests ahead of people’s lives”.
Cummings resigned as chief Downing Street advisor in November after an internal power struggle. In the latest of a series of attacks on the government, he shared WhatsApp messages apparently from Johnson.
In one message shown by Cummings to the BBC, the prime minister allegedly wrote in October that most people were dying from the virus at a ripe old age.
“The median age is 82-81 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So get Covid and Live longer,” Johnson was said to have written in the text message.
The prime minister also apparently downplayed the pandemic’s impact on the National Health Service (NHS), despite himself receiving intensive care treatment for Covid last spring.
“I no longer buy all this nhs overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate,” the WhatsApp message from October 15 says, two weeks before Johnson did in fact announce a second lockdown.
– ‘Difficult decisions’ –
Cummings summarised Johnson’s attitude at the time as: “This is terrible but the people dying are essentially all over 80 and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.”
Asked if Cummings’ recollection was correct, Johnson’s spokesman flatly responded “no”, and insisted that he had been “guided by the best scientific advice” throughout the pandemic.
Business minister Paul Scully told BBC radio: “The prime minister had some really difficult decisions to make.
“We want to protect people, we want to keep people safe… but that has to be balanced with people’s livelihoods.”
Johnson has faced stinging criticism for vacillating at various stages of the health crisis, with the UK’s death toll soaring to the worst in Europe before a successful vaccine rollout.
On Monday he controversially opted to go ahead with the relaxation of almost all virus restrictions in England, despite cases growing steeply in recent weeks.
– ‘Insane’ royal plan –
Cummings also claimed that at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, he had to persuade Johnson not to continue meeting Queen Elizabeth II in person every week.
He claimed the prime minister said on March 18: “Sod this. I’m going to go and see her.”
Johnson changed his mind after Cummings said he told him that some Downing Street staff were already infected, and that risking the life of the monarch, then aged 94, was “completely insane”.
The prime minister’s spokesman told reporters: “This didn’t happen and we’ve been clear about that.”
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
The prime minister repeatedly condemned the first lockdown from March 2020 as a “disaster”, Cummings said.
The UK government lifted many virus restrictions over the summer of 2020 including reopening non-essential shops, and encouraged people to “eat out to help out” at restaurants.
But as cases and hospitalisations soared after the summer, a new lockdown in England entered force on October 31 — more than a month after government scientists began pressing for one.
Cummings became a hate figure for much of the public when he broke the government’s strict lockdown rules with a family road trip last year.
He claimed in the BBC interview that the trip to his parents’ property in northern England was prompted by security threats to his family.
Cummings said that MPs should insist on an immediate public inquiry into Johnson’s decisions on the pandemic. The prime minister has promised one, but not before next year.
The opposition Labour party demanded the inquiry be brought forward.
“The revelations are further evidence that the prime minister has made the wrong calls time and again at the expense of public health,” Labour health spokesman Justin Madders said.