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Rishi Sunak has defended the government’s delay in implementing a national lockdown in the autumn, as No 10 refused to deny the prime minister had said of coronavirus that he would rather “let it rip” than impose strict curbs.
Boris Johnson is also under pressure over what sources claim was an angry remark suggesting he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than call a third lockdown, shortly after colleagues had convinced him of the need for more restrictions in November.
The chancellor, who was also said to be reluctant to impose new measures, appeared to defend Johnson’s position in the House of Commons on Tuesday.
“At the time there was a debate, appropriately, about whether a national intervention was right at a time when the epidemiology across this country was incredibly varied,” he said.
“That is something that the deputy chief medical officer himself spoke about at a press conference and said it would be inappropriate at that time to take forward national interventions.”
Documents show that Sage, the group of scientists advising government, suggested a “circuit breaker” lockdown on 21 September. Johnson eventually agreed to order a four-week lockdown in late October.
The Times reported that in September last year Johnson “repeatedly said that he would rather ‘let it rip’ during this period than implement another lockdown, because the restrictions would cause businesses to close and people to lose their jobs”.
Asked about this claim at the Downing Street lobby briefing, the prime minister’s spokesman replied: “I’ve seen the various reports and speculation which distort the actions of the prime minister. At all times he has been focused on savings lives and livelihoods.” Pressed again, the spokesman again refused to deny that Johnson had made the comment.
Johnson opened a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning by hinting that he hoped the government could move on from sleaze allegations, which include controversy over loans for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
He also said the UK was sending an aid support package, which included oxygen concentrators and ventilators, to India to assist their work in tackling coronavirus. “This sort of action, along with delivery of core government commitments, is what the public want their government to focus on,” his spokesman said of the meeting.
The work and pensions secretary, Thérèse Coffey, said she believed the public would not find the words of Johnson’s former adviser Dominic Cummings credible. Cummings has been accused of leaking a number of the most damaging stories and wrote a highly critical blog of Johnson last week, including his actions in the run-up to the lockdown decision.
Coffey also said she believed Johnson when he denied saying “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” during discussions about an England-wide lockdown late last year.
She suggested the public would not believe Cummings because of his own controversy over breaking lockdown rules, including claims he had driven to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight. Coffey said: “A lot of people will have seen Dominic Cummings for the first time ever last year when he gave a press conference in the Rose Garden at No 10. They’ll have come to their own views.”
Johnson defended Cummings at the time, saying he acted “responsibly and legally”.
Source: The Guardian
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