The U.K’s COVID-19 Inquiry into the government’s response to the pandemic picked up again on Wednesday morning. The hearings for the initial stage of the investigation were heard in London in June. Today, former U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who served as the nation’s leader from 2019 to 2022, was sworn in to give evidence in front of the panel. Shortly into his opening statement, he said that he was sorry for the suffering experienced by COVID victims and their families.
“I understand the feelings of these victims and their families, and I am deeply sorry for the pain, and the loss, and the suffering of those victims and their families,” Johnson said. “And grateful though I am to the hundreds and thousands of healthcare workers… who helped to protect our country throughout the dreadful pandemic, I do hope that this inquiry will help to get the answers to the very difficult questions that those victims and those families are rightly asking… so that we can protect ourselves better in the future and prevent further suffering.”
The U.K. has had 325 COVID deaths per 100,000 citizens, one of the highest death rates in Western Europe, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
The inquiry was created to help examine the government’s response to the pandemic and identify potential lessons for the future. The panel will not bestow criminal blame on those involved in the decision making process.
Among those in attendance are bereaved families, who lost loved ones during the pandemic. “Boris Johnson is expected to issue an apology this morning. Yet, he will claim he saved thousands of lives. For many of the bereaved, that will be a grotesque distortion of the truth,” said a spokesperson for the bereaved families ahead of Johnson’s opening statement on Wednesday.
Some believe that Johnson’s initial hesitancy to implement lockdowns was to blame for the U.K.’s high death rate. In a press conference on March 12, 2023, when the nation had hundreds of confirmed cases, Johnson’s government gave only soft guidelines, saying that people over the age of 70 and immunocompromised individuals should avoid going on cruises and recommending that school children did not travel overseas.
The U.K. did not legally enforce lockdown measures until March 26, 2020. Previous questioning from the inquiry has put forward the claim that Johnson believed that the pandemic was “nature’s way of dealing with old people.”
Nevertheless, Johnson’s supporters have pointed out that the U.K. had one of the earliest vaccine rollouts in the world, and was the first nation to deploy an approved vaccine for the virus.
“Inevitably we got some things wrong. But I think we were doing our best at the time,” Johnson said at the inquiry.