Rishi Sunak and ex-PM Boris Johnson shared a laissez-faire attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic, according to Patrick Vallance
UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak wanted the government to “just let people die” rather than impose a second national lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, London’s former chief scientific adviser, Patrick Vallance, told the government’s official Covid-19 inquiry on Monday.
Neither Sunak, who was chancellor at the time, nor then-PM Boris Johnson were in favor of closing the economy again and compounding the financial ruin wrought by the first lockdown, according to Vallance’s diaries, which the scientist kept as a sanity-preserving exercise during the pandemic.
“Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s ok. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership,” he wrote in a diary entry dated October 25, 2020 seen by the inquiry, which is tasked with probing the government’s response to the pandemic.
Sunak reportedly made the comment during a meeting with Johnson and his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, who in turn relayed his words to Vallance. Cummings was in favor of a lockdown, reasoning it was best to “do it sooner rather than later,” even as Johnson resisted. Vallance lamented the “complete lack of leadership” from 10 Downing.
Vallance’s diaries also alleged that Sunak had failed to consult scientists regarding his controversial ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ campaign aimed at jump-starting Britain’s restaurant economy after the first lockdown, despite “obvious” risks.
While Vallance insisted that the scheme was “quite likely” to have increased the number of Covid-19 infections, Sunak claimed in a written submission to the inquiry that he did not recall any objections to the policy at the time. However, it earned him the nickname ‘Dr. Death’ from Angela McLean, then-chief scientific adviser to the Defense Department.
Vallance denounced Johnson’s own approach to the pandemic as “bonkers,” describing the prime minister as “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going.” Johnson had initially argued against locking down the UK over the coronavirus prior to falling ill himself and was said to have called the virus “nature’s way of dealing with old people.”
Sunak’s spokesman declined to answer reporters’ questions on Monday regarding whether he had made the controversial comment or consulted scientists, promising to address both issues when the prime minister is summoned to give evidence before the inquiry.
Johnson announced the UK Covid-19 Inquiry in 2021 and hearings began earlier this year. Set to run through 2026, it aims to examine related issues including pandemic preparedness, lockdowns, vaccine mandates, and other public health interventions, home and hospital care, and associated financial programs. Covid-19 contributed to the deaths of more than 220,000 people in the UK and had a devastating effect on its economy.