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Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Defends COVID-19 Response Amid Inquiry

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Anthony Raphael
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Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Defends COVID-19 Response Amid Inquiry

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Former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently defended his government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic amidst a public inquiry. The scrutiny particularly focused on the delayed imposition of a national lockdown and the 'Eat Out to Help Out' program. Some of the leading scientists criticized the latter for increasing transmission risks, a claim that Johnson defended, stating that it was not presented as a budget risk.

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Johnson's Admission

Despite his defence, Johnson admitted to his government's failure in fully understanding the extent of the pandemic and responding adequately. The U.K. experienced a long and strict lockdown with a high COVID-19 death toll, and Johnson acknowledged that earlier lockdowns could have saved lives. The public inquiry aims to uncover lessons for future pandemics, but it also carries the potential to further damage Johnson's reputation.

The Atmosphere of the Inquiry

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The inquiry resumed on a tense note, with bereaved families in attendance. These families lost their loved ones during the pandemic and stood up during the hearing, each holding a paper with a single word. The lawyer responsible for questioning Johnson suggested that a factory reset had been carried out on Johnson’s phone, wiping an estimated 5,000 WhatsApp messages that were supposed to be investigated by the inquiry.

Johnson's Testimony

Testifying under oath, Johnson acknowledged that his government “got some things wrong” and “underestimated the scale and the pace of the challenge” when reports of a new virus began to emerge from China in early 2020. Despite the mistakes, Johnson insisted that he and his officials did their “level best”. He admitted to not attending 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.

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Apology and Regret

Johnson gave his most explicit apology for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, saying his government had been too complacent and 'vastly underestimated' the risks posed by the virus. He acknowledged that COVID-19 had first appeared as a 'cloud on the horizon' and not the 'typhoon' that went on to claim more than 230,000 lives in Britain and infect many millions more. He stood by his decision not to chair meetings of the government’s COBRA crisis committee at the start of the pandemic, a decision that drew heavy criticism.

Conclusion

While Johnson apologized for the suffering experienced by COVID victims and their families, he also admitted to some mistakes but maintained that he and his advisers did their best. The inquiry continues, casting an unfavorable light on the culture in the No 10 Downing Street Johnson ran. The final verdict of the inquiry will publish lessons learned for posterity, but it also carries the potential to further damage Johnson's reputation.

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