Why Former UK PM Boris Johnson Apologizes at Covid Inquiry for ‘Pain and Suffering’

In a landmark moment at the UK’s COVID-19 inquiry, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson admitted that his government was slow to grasp the scale of the global pandemic and apologized to the victims and the bereaved.

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

‘We got some things wrong’

The UK’s Health Secretary during the pandemic, Matt Hancock, had previously told the inquiry 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 conceded, 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.”

Protests and Interruptions

Johnson’s public apology was briefly interrupted as a protester was removed from the inquiry room in London after refusing to be seated during his testimony.

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

Missing WhatsApp messages and a soaring death toll

Johnson arrived three hours early for the hearing, prompting speculation that he was attempting 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.

Comparisons to Europe and Johnson’s Defense

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.

The former Prime Minister’s testimony also addressed questions about the disappearance of WhatsApp messages on his phone from a critical period early in the pandemic.

Johnson claimed he didn’t know why the messages were missing, stating that the app had “somehow” automatically erased its chat history from that period.

He denied claims he initiated a “factory reset” of his phone and said he didn’t remember any such thing.

‘Bamboozled’ by data and future inquiry hearings

Johnson, who agreed to hold a COVID-19 inquiry in late 2021 following pressure from the families of the bereaved, has been 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 inquiry is expected to continue for several months, with the aim of providing a comprehensive understanding of the UK’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic and identifying lessons learned for the future.

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