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UK Covid inquiry: Boris Johnson admits underestimating virus threat

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson Wednesday admitted before the COVID-19 public inquiry that his government “underestimated the scale and the pace of the challenge” when reports of a new virus began to start coming from China in early 2020, reported AP.

The former prime minister said his government was too slow to grasp the extent of the COVID-19 crisis, adding that the “panic level was not sufficiently high.” 

Johnson conceded that the government had “made mistakes,” but at the same time emphasized collective failure rather than his own errors. The former prime minister said ministers, civil servants and scientific advisers had failed to sound a “loud enough klaxon of alarm” about the virus.

“I was not being informed that this was something that was going to require urgent and immediate action,” he said.

Last week, former Health Secretary Matt Hancock informed the inquiry panel that he had tried to raise the alarm inside the government, adding that thousands of lives could have been saved by putting the country under lockdown a few weeks earlier than the eventual date of March 23, 2020.

Johnson acknowledged before the inquiry panel that he didn’t attend any of the government’s five crisis meetings on the new virus in February 2020, and only “once or twice” looked at meeting minutes from the government’s scientific advisory group. The former prime minister said that he relied on “distilled” advice from his science and medicine advisers.

Johnson started his testimony with an apology “for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the COVID victims,” though not for any of his own actions. Four people stood up in court as he spoke, holding signs saying: “The Dead can’t hear your apologies,” before being escorted out by security staff.

“Inevitably, in the course of trying to handle a very, very difficult pandemic in which we had to balance appalling harms on either side of the decision, we may have made mistakes,” Johnson said. “Inevitably, we got some things wrong. I think we were doing our best at the time.”

Johnson defended his government, saying it contained “challenging” characters “whose views about each other might not be fit to print, but who got an awful lot done.”

Johnson said he was “not sure” whether his government’s decisions had caused excess deaths. He said that deciding when to impose lockdowns and other restrictions had been “painful.”

“When it came to the balance of the need to protect the public and protect the (health service), and the damage done by lockdowns, it was incredibly difficult,” he said.

 

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Published: 06 Dec 2023, 09:38 PM IST

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