Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson (Reuters-Yonhap)
LONDON (AFP) - 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”.
In the latest of a series of attacks on the government following his resignation as chief Downing Street advisor in November, Cummings 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 an age above the average life expectancy.
“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.”
Business minister Paul Scully defended the prime minister against the allegation that he was ready to sacrifice the over-80s to save the economy.
“I don’t think that‘s right,” Scully told BBC radio, stressing he did not know whether the messages were genuine.
“The prime minister had some really difficult decisions to make,” he added.
“We want to protect people, we want to keep people safe... but that has to be balanced with people’s livelihoods.”
Johnson has faced serious 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.
- Plan to visit Queen -
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”.
Downing Street denied this took place, while Buckingham Palace declined to comment, according to the BBC.
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.
A high-profile figure during the pandemic, Cummings resigned in November
2020 after he became notorious for breaking the government‘s strict lockdown rules with a family road trip.
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 inquiry into Johnson‘s decisions on the pandemic. The prime minister has promised one, but not before next year.
Richard Burgon, an MP for the opposition Labour party, wrote on Twitter:
“Yet more shocking revelations about the Prime Minister’s appalling attitude to Covid.
”The Public Inquiry must begin immediately - no more delays.“