LONDON - Mr Boris Johnson was “bamboozled” by data during the pandemic, a public inquiry into his government’s response to the global health crisis heard on Nov 20.
Former chief scientific adviser Patrick Vallance said Mr Johnson, who was prime minister at the time, sometimes struggled to retain scientific information.
In a May 4, 2020 note on a meeting with Mr Johnson, he wrote: “My God, this is complicated. Models will not provide the answer. PM is clearly bamboozled.” Another said: “PM asking whether we’ve overdone it on the lethality of this disease. He swings between optimism pessimism, and then this.”
Dr Vallance wrote that watching Mr Johnson get his head round stats was hard work. “He finds relative and absolute risk almost impossible to understand,” he said.
Another note described Mr Johnson as “distressed” at seeing attendees in face masks and socially distanced at a Battle of Britain memorial service in September that year.
He said Mr Johnson, who has been criticised at the inquiry by former senior advisers, described the scene as “mad and spooky, we have got to end it”.
“Starts challenging numbers and questioning whether they really translate into deaths. Says it is not exponential etc etc,” he added, referring to the former premier then.
Describing Mr Johnson’s attitude toward the spread of the virus, Dr Vallance wrote: “Looked broken – head in hands a lot. ‘Is it because of the great libertarian nation we are that it spreads so much’.”
“‘Maybe we are licked as a species’... ‘We are too sh** to get our act together’“.
Dr Vallance also recounted how the then finance minister Rishi Sunak was overheard in a meeting in July 2020 saying the government should handle its scientific advisers rather than Covid-19.
At the time, plans were being made to reopen the country after the first national lockdown.
Other notes from Dr Vallance written in June 2020 claimed ministers “hadn’t really read or taken the time to understand the science advice” when they wanted to axe the 2m social distancing rule.
“No. 10 (Downing Street) pushing hard on releasing measures – including clubs and bars. They are pushing hard and want the science altered,” he wrote.
“We need to hold onto our hats. There will likely be a second peak,” he added.
The inquiry, chaired by a retired senior judge, is to interview Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, the current prime minister, later this year.
Mr Johnson’s time as prime minister was ended after a string of scandals, including lockdown-breaking parties held at Downing Street. AFP