Ex-PM Johnson apologises to families of UK Covid victims

December 07, 2023

LONDON: Boris Johnson on Wednesday apologised for “the pain and the loss and the suffering” caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, as he gave evidence at a public inquiry into his government´s handling of the global health crisis.

The former prime minister, who has faced a barrage of criticism from former aides for alleged indecisiveness and a lack of scientific understanding during the pandemic, is facing two gruelling days in the witness box.

Britain's former Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves after giving evidence at the UK Covid-19 Inquiry, in west London, on December 6, 2023. — AFP

Johnson -- forced from office last year over lockdown-breaching parties held in Downing Street during the pandemic -- accepted that “mistakes” had “unquestionably” been made but repeatedly insisted he and officials did their “level best”.

“I understand the feeling of the victims and their families and I´m deeply sorry for the pain and the loss and the suffering to those victims and their families,” Johnson said.

Johnson, 59, was briefly interrupted as a protester was ordered from the inquiry room after refusing to sit down during the apology. Several others were also later removed. “Inevitably we got some things wrong,” Johnson continued, adding he took personal responsibility for all the decisions made.

“At the time I felt... we were doing our best in very difficult circumstances.” The former premier arrived around three hours early for the proceedings, with some suggesting he was eager to avoid relatives of the Covid bereaved, who gathered outside later in the morning.

Nearly 130,000 people died with Covid in the UK by mid-July 2021, one of the worst official per capita tolls among Western nations. Johnson -- whose lengthy written submission to the inquiry will be published later Wednesday -- insisted the “overwhelming priority” of his government had been protecting the National Health Service (NHS) and saving lives. Rebutting evidence Britain fared worse than European neighbours, he argued “every country struggled with a new pandemic” while noting the UK had an “extremely elderly population” and is one of the continent´s most densely populated countries.