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Emotional Boris Johnson describes ‘tragic, tragic 2020’ at Covid Inquiry

Former British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gives evidence at the Covid Inquiry in London on December 6
Boris Johnson told bereaved families he was 'deeply sorry' for the loss of life, pain and suffering the pandemic caused - Reuters

Boris Johnson fought back tears as he spoke of the “tragic, tragic” events of 2020 in his long-awaited appearance at the Covid Inquiry on Wednesday.

Mr Johnson, who almost lost his life to the virus, became emotional during the first of two days in the witness box at the public hearing he set up while he was still prime minister.

He also told bereaved families he was “deeply sorry” for the loss of life, the pain and the suffering that the pandemic caused and apologised for any mistakes that were made.

Mr Johnson arrived at 7am - three hours early - for the hearing in London before protesters had arrived holding up placards accusing him of killing their loved ones.

Baroness Hallett, the inquiry chairman, ejected four bereaved relatives from the public gallery after they refused to sit down while holding up placards reading “the dead can’t hear your apologies”.

Almost three hours into his evidence, Mr Johnson was asked by Hugo Keith KC, counsel to the inquiry, about the impact on decision-making of warnings from scientific advisers not to impose lockdowns too early.

He faltered while answering and appeared tearful as he replied: “It’s fundamental, and I’m afraid it’s what happened. We have to be realistic about 2020, the whole year, that whole tragic, tragic year … we did lock down, but then it bounced back up after we’d unlocked.”

He added: “Don’t forget that this is a once-in-a-century event. We’re doing things, we’re enacting policy that has never been enacted in our lifetimes in this country. And to do it at the drop of a hat is very, very logistically difficult but it was not something you rushed into.”

Mr Johnson was lucky to survive his own battle with Covid in April 2020 when he spent three days in intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital in London, later saying “things could have gone either way”.

He admitted to the inquiry that the first national lockdown was built on an “uncertain foundation”. The inquiry heard he had taken the “extraordinary step” of removing people’s freedom without being “truly sure” about the data he was basing the decision on.

He also called for extensive research on the long-term impact of lockdowns to give future governments “granular clarity” on what benefits they do and do not deliver.

Mr Johnson was confronted over expletive-ridden WhatsApp messages sent between ministers, officials and advisers at the heart of government, and said they had been “creatively useful” at a time when he wanted people to feel they could speak their minds.

He said he had apologised to Helen MacNamara, the former deputy cabinet secretary, over a misogynistic message about her sent by his former adviser Dominic Cummings to a WhatsApp conversation of which he was a part.

Mr Johnson said he should have acted when Mr Cummings referred to “dodging stilettos from that c---”.

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