18m agoTory hopes of tax cuts grow ahead of Autumn Statement
1h agoHamas says Israel truce is close leading to freeing of women and child hostages
2h agoFears of potential measles outbreak in children as doctors told to be on alert

Sunak said ‘just let people die’ Cummings claimed, Covid inquiry hears

The former chief scientific adviser also believed the then prime minister was 'weak and indecisive' and was led largely by parts of the media

Boris Johnson was relaxed about people dying from Covid, claiming most people who died had “had a good innings”, according to fresh bombshell revelations in Sir Patrick Vallance’s diaries.

The former chief scientific adviser also believed the then prime minister was “weak and indecisive” and was led largely by parts of the media.

The Covid inquiry heard how the then prime minister and chancellor, Rishi Sunak, argued against a second lockdown, in order to protect the economy, as cases rose in autumn 2020.

Sir Patrick, former chief scientific adviser, quoted Mr Johnson as saying that people at risk of dying from the virus “have had a good innings” and “most people who die have reached their time anyway”.

He did not quote Mr Sunak directly, but in his diary of 25 October 2020, he recorded former No10 senior adviser Dominic Cummings as saying: “Rishi thinks ‘just let people die and that’s okay’.”

Sir Patrick confirmed to the inquiry he had not heard Mr Sunak say this first hand.

Days later, the Prime Minister announced a second, month-long lockdown after fresh evidence showed the NHS would be at risk of being overwhelmed.

Ministers and scientific advisers had spent several weeks discussing whether a “circuit breaker” should be imposed after cases rose in the wake of a summer easing of restrictions, including Mr Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out discount meals scheme.

On 25 October, a second lockdown was subject to fraught discussion at the top of Government.

Sir Patrick wrote in his diary: “PM meeting – begins to argue for letting it all rip. Saying yes, there will be more casualties but so be it – ‘they have had a good innings’.”

Mr Johnson was “not persuaded” by the arguments for a second lockdown from scientists on Sage, including professors Neil Ferguson, John Edmunds and Jeremy Farrar.

Sir Patrick wrote: “PM says ‘the population just has to behave doesn’t it!’.”

Mr Cummings, a leading proponent of a second lockdown, warned that the viral cases’ “trajectory will leave us” in November and take the UK to where it was in the first week of April, at the peak of the first wave.”

Mr Johnson was “getting very frustrated – throwing papers down”, Sir Patrick wrote.

He added: “PM then back on to ‘Most people who die have reached their time anyway’. DC [Mr Cummings] argued again (rightly) that a lockdown’s coming and therefore do it sooner rather than later. PM concludes ‘Looks like we are in a really tough spot, a complete shambles. I really don’t want to do another national lockdown.’

“PM told that if he wants to go down this route of letting go, ‘you need to tell people – you need to tell them you are going to allow people to die’.”

The meeting concluded with a decision to either strengthen the tiers system – where different regions were placed under varying restrictions – or impose a fresh national lockdown.

Sir Patrick wrote: “DC [Mr Cummings] says ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay’. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership.”

Asked by inquiry KC Andrew O’Connor whether he still held the view that there was no leadership at the top of government, Sir Patrick said: “It must have felt like a complete lack of leadership on that day, and it reading it, it feels like quite a shambolic day.”

In separate notes, Sir Patrick wrote of Mr Johnson: “We have a weak indecisive PM” and described the right-wing press as “culpable” in decision-making on covid measures.

The former scientific adviser told the inquiry that the note was due to a “late-night moment of frustration” but that he did believe that the then PM was “influenced a lot by the press” in his decision-making during the pandemic.

Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Sunak thought it would be okay to “just let people die” during the pandemic, saying it would be for the Prime Minister to set out his position during evidence before the Covid inquiry.

“The Prime Minister is due to give evidence before the inquiry at the time of their choosing. That’s when he’ll set out his position,” Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said.

Most Read By Subscribers