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Boris Johnson Apologises to UK COVID Victims

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he is "deeply sorry for the pain and suffering" of the UK's COVID-19 victims. While he admitted to making mistakes, he defended his record at the height of the pandemic.
Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: GOV.UK/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0 CL

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has admitted that his government was slow to grasp the scale of the global COVID-19 pandemic and apologised to the victims and the bereaved at the UK’s COVID-19 inquiry on Wednesday.

“I understand the feeling of the victims and their families, and I’m deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering to those victims and their families,” Johnson said under oath.

‘We got some things wrong’

The UK’s Health Secretary during the pandemic, Matt Hancock, told the inquiry last week that he had tried to raise the alarm inside the government, saying thousands of lives could have been saved by putting the country into lockdown a few weeks earlier than the eventual date of March 23, 2020.

“Inevitably we got some things wrong,” Johnson said, adding he took personal responsibility for all the decisions made. “At the time, I felt we were doing our best in very difficult circumstances… we underestimated the scale and the pace of the challenge.”

Johnson, who was prime minister from 2019 to 2022, was briefly interrupted when a protester was removed from the inquiry room in London after refusing to be seated during Johnson’s apology.

Several others were also later removed, shouting: “The dead can’t hear your apologies.”

Missing WhatsApp messages, soaring death toll

Johnson arrived three hours early for the hearing, suggesting an attempt to avoid the bereaved families, some of whom assembled outside Dorland House in west London throughout the hearing.

More than 230,000 people died after contracting COVID-19 in the UK between March 2020 and mid-July 2021, one of the worst per capita tolls among Western countries.

Faced with evidence by inquiry counsel Hugo Keith that the UK fared worse in the pandemic than its European neighbors, Johnson argued that “every country struggled with a new pandemic” while noting the UK had an “extremely elderly population” and is one of the continent’s most densely populated countries.

Johnson’s grilling began with questions about a failure to provide about 5,000 WhatsApp messages on his phone from late January 2020 to June 2020.

“I don’t know the exact reason,” he claimed, adding the app had “somehow” automatically erased its chat history from that period.

Asked if he had initiated a so-called factory reset of a mobile device, Johnson said: “I don’t remember any such thing.”

Johnson ‘bamboozled’ by data

Johnson, who agreed to hold a COVID-19 inquiry in late 2021 following pressure from the families of the bereaved, was accused by former aides of indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic.

His former chief scientific officer, Patrick Vallance, said Johnson was frequently “bamboozled” by scientific data.

Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings, now a fierce opponent of Johnson, said the then-prime minister asked scientists whether blowing a hair dryer up his nose could kill the virus.

The ex-leader has also denied claims he said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than impose another lockdown, comments he denies ever having said.

Current UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who was Johnson’s Chancellor (finance minister) during the pandemic, is due to be questioned at the inquiry in the coming weeks.

This article was originally published on DW.

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