UK PM hits back after ex-aide alleges pandemic lies and chaos

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) speaks with staff as he visits Colchester hospital in Colchester, England on May 27, 2021. — AFP pic
Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (centre) speaks with staff as he visits Colchester hospital in Colchester, England on May 27, 2021. — AFP pic

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LONDON, May 27 — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today denied overseeing the needless deaths of many thousands of Covid patients, after his former chief advisor alleged the government’s pandemic response was undermined by lies and incompetence.

Johnson declined to say whether Dominic Cummings was telling the truth in his incendiary claims to MPs yesterday, but said: “Some of the commentary I’ve heard doesn’t bear any relation to reality.”

Cummings, an abrasive political strategist who masterminded the anti-EU campaign in Britain’s Brexit referendum, called Johnson “unfit for the job” and said Health Secretary Matt Hancock was a serial liar.

Asked about Cummings’ central claim that tens of thousands of people had died needlessly last year, including in care homes for the elderly, Johnson told reporters: “No, no, I don’t think so.

“Of course this has been an incredibly difficult series of decisions, none of which we’ve taken lightly,” he said, insisting the government did all it could to save lives and protect the state-run National Health Service (NHS).

Cummings said the health minister “should have been fired for at least 15, 20 things” after “lying to everybody on multiple occasions, in meeting after meeting in the cabinet room and publicly”.

Hancock claimed in May 2020 to have thrown a “protective ring” around care homes — but the main opposition Labour party noted that 30,000 elderly residents have died of Covid-19 and 20,000 older patients were discharged from hospitals without testing.

Labour also highlighted Cummings’ assertion that Hancock had dishonestly blamed NHS chiefs for the government’s failure to procure adequate personal protective equipment for frontline medics.

‘We did everything we could’

The “unsubstantiated allegations around honesty are not true”, Hancock responded in parliament today.

“I’ve been straight with people in public and in private throughout, every day since I began working on the response to this pandemic last January (2020),” he said.

Hancock received backing from colleagues including senior minister Michael Gove, who told parliament that he has “been doing a great job” and is a “dedicated public servant”.

Johnson said the deaths in care homes were “tragic, but we did everything we could to protect the NHS, to minimise transmission with the knowledge that we had”.

The prime minister himself faces questions over whether, as claimed by Cummings, he refused to take the pandemic seriously, ignored scientific advice at a key point, and was obsessed by personal issues and media coverage.

Downing Street has disputed the claims.

Coronavirus has claimed nearly 128,000 lives in the UK — the fifth-highest official death toll in the world, and the highest in Europe.

But Johnson’s government has also overseen a successful vaccination drive, having offered more than two-thirds of all adults at least one dose.

However, scientists say the progress is threatened by the rapid growth of a Covid variant that first emerged in India, which could imperil the government’s plans to fully reopen the economy after June 21.

Johnson said the timetable remained on track, but would be governed by the science as more data on the variant comes through. — AFP

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