No.10 Awkwardly Dodges Questions About Whether Boris Johnson Wanted To ‘Ignore’ Covid

Downing Street failed four times to comment on bombshell BBC claim about the prime minister's attitude early in the pandemic.
Prime minister Boris Johnson
Prime minister Boris Johnson
Ian West/PA

Downing Street has awkwardly dodged a string of questions about claims that Boris Johnson said ignoring Covid would be “the best thing” early in the pandemic.

The prime minister’s spokesperson ignored every opportunity to contradict the claims made in a bombshell BBC report, which also says cabinet ministers felt the PM should have installed a tougher lockdown last autumn to save more lives.

The documentary further claimed Johnson’s aides explicitly advised him to tell the public to stop shaking hands – despite which he boasted about shaking hands with hospital staff during an early press conference.

The PM’s spokesperson was asked four times on Tuesday about the central claim that Johnson was overheard saying at the start of the pandemic that “the best thing would be to ignore it”.

The BBC says he repeatedly warned that an overreaction could do more harm than good.

The spokesperson refused to deny the words had been said. “I would point back to what the prime minister said and set out at the time. It has always been our focus to reduce the cases of transmission, to protect the NHS and to ultimately protect lives.

“That’s what we did when we first locked down the country last year and that’s what we have sought to do throughout the pandemic.”

Put to him that he was not denying the allegation, the spokesperson said: “I’m pointing out that throughout the pandemic what we have done is do what we think was the best course of action in terms of protecting lives and in terms of protecting the NHS. That has been our focus throughout the pandemic.”

One source told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg there was a “lack of concern and energy” in No.10 as the virus began to hit the UK. “The general view was it is just hysteria. It was just like a flu.”

The BBC also quoted an unnamed cabinet minister’s frustration with the PM’s unwillingness to tighten restrictions in September as a second wave of infections began to appear.

“We knew there was going to be a second wave and there was a row about whether people should work from home or not – it was totally ridiculous,” they said.

No.10 also tried to dodge questions about a Daily Telegraph report saying the role of the Sage advisory committee of scientists would be “reviewed” after the pandemic, because they hold “too much sway” over ministerial decisions.

“We’ve said previously, there will be a time in the future to look back and analyse and reflect on all aspects of the pandemic,” the spokesperson said.

“But Sage continues and will continue to provide scientific evidence and information to the prime minister, the health secretary, and to the wider government as we move through implementing the roadmap.”


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