LONDON — A disgruntled former top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the British leader was dismissive of the threat posed by surging coronavirus cases last year, saying he did not want to impose a new lockdown because the disease was only killing the elderly.
Dominic Cummings left his job as an adviser in November and has since launched a series of excoriating attacks on his former boss.
In an interview with the BBC, Cummings said Johnson resisted locking down the country in the fall of 2020 because “the people who are dying are essentially all over 80.”
Britain was in lockdown for more than three months from March 2020 before easing up over the summer. The government’s top science adviser advised new restrictions in September, as cases rose again. A new lockdown was announced in late October, and a third in January.
In advance extracts of Tuesday’s broadcast, Cummings said Johnson’s attitude in autumn 2020 “was a weird mix of, partly ‘It’s all nonsense and lockdowns don’t work anyway’ and partly ‘Well this is terrible but the people who are dying are essentially all over 80 and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.’”
Cummings said others had heard the prime minister make the remarks.
Since leaving Downing Street, Cummings — in testimony to lawmakers, blog posts and a stream of tweets — has accused Johnson of overseeing a chaotic government whose failure to act quickly against the coronavirus caused thousands of unnecessary deaths. The U.K. has recorded more than 128,000 deaths among people with COVID-19, the highest toll in Europe after Russia.
Critics accuse Cummings of seeking revenge and trying to downplay his own role in government, ahead of a public inquiry into Britain’s handling of the pandemic that is due to start next year.
Johnson’s office did not deny the specific allegation about the comments, but said that “since the start of the pandemic, the prime minister has taken the necessary action to protect lives and livelihoods, guided by the best scientific advice.”