LONDON – Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was quoted as saying the government should “just let people die” during the COVID-19 pandemic rather than imposing a second national lockdown, the inquiry heard on Monday about how Britain handled the crisis.
Patrick Vallance, who was the government’s chief scientific adviser during COVID, made an entry in his diary on October 25, 2020, about a meeting involving then-prime minister Boris Johnson and Sunak, who was finance minister.
The diary entry shown at the inquest recorded how Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s most senior adviser during the pandemic, relayed to Vallance what he said he heard at the meeting.
Vallance quoted Cummings in his diary as saying: “Rishi thinks it’s enough to let people die and that’s fine. This all seems like a complete lack of leadership.”
A spokesman for Sunak said the Prime Minister would set out his position when he gave evidence to the inquiry “rather than answering each piece piecemeal”.
The inquiry is examining the government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic that has shuttered large sectors of the economy and killed more than 220,000 people in Britain. It is expected to last until the summer of 2026.
Senior government officials have repeatedly said that the government was unprepared for the pandemic and that a “toxic” and “macho” culture hampered the response to the health crisis.
The danger for Sunak is that the inquiry’s evidence will undermine his attempt to present himself as a change to Johnson’s chaotic leadership, despite having been one of the most senior ministers in that government.
Previous evidence showed that he was labeled “Dr. Death” by a government scientific adviser due to its “Eat Out to Help Out” policy in summer 2020, which subsidized meals in bars and restaurants but was criticized by health experts for spreading the virus.
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