Britain was ‘well down the table’ of countries with the highest Covid deaths, Boris Johnson said today.
Giving evidence at the official inquiry, the ex-PM disputed a suggestion from counsel that the UK’s toll had been the second worst in Western Europe.
In a tetchy exchange with Hugo Keith KC, Mr Johnson played down the idea that government decisions had led to a ‘materially’ larger number of deaths.
He pointed to the aging and dense population as a reason why Britain was hard hit.
Comparisons of deaths between countries vary depending on the metric and time period used, but the ONS has previously suggested that over the whole pandemic the UK’s toll was lower than a number of other developed countries.
Giving evidence at the official inquiry, Boris Johnson disputed a suggestion from counsel that the UK’s toll had been the second worst in Western Europe
Bereaved families were holding a vigil at the Covid inquiry venue as Mr Johnson gave evidence
Figures have suggested that many other countries had worse excess deaths than the UK
Mr Johnson questioned the lead counsel’s statement that the UK was among the worst performers in Europe.
He said that ONS figures indicated that the UK was ‘well down the European table and well down the world table’.
Mr Keith responded that in ‘western Europe, we were one of the worst off, if not the second worst off’.
Mr Johnson, pressed again on why the UK had such a rate of excess deaths, said: ‘Irrespective of government action, we have an elderly population, extremely elderly population.
‘We do suffer, sadly, from lots of Covid-related comorbidities and we are a very, very densely populated country
‘That did not help.’
The clash came as Mr Johnson issued an apology to kick off an epic two-day grilling at the inquiry.
The ex-PM said he wanted to express how ‘sorry I am for the pain and the loss and the suffering’ of victims of the pandemic.
Mr Johnson acknowledged that ‘in hindsight’ mistakes had been made, and suggested the danger had been underestimated in the early stages because the last such crisis was ‘outside living memory’.
He said even by early February the government was ‘not yet believing’ that the ‘reasonable worst case’ of the virus sweeping Brits would be realised.
Mr Johnson said he was ‘really rattled’ when he saw the impact on Italy, where hospitals were overwhelmed. ‘We should have twigged much sooner… I should have twigged,’ he said.
‘Can I just say how glad I am to be at this inquiry and how sorry I am for the pain and the loss and the suffering of the Covid victims,’ Mr Johnson said.
In a tetchy exchange with Hugo Keith KC, Mr Johnson played down the idea that government decisions had led to a ‘materially’ larger number of deaths
Mr Johnson took responsibility for a list of decisions including the speed of the Government’s response to the pandemic in 2020, lockdown timings, the explosion of the virus in the residential care sector, the Eat Out to Help Out scheme and the decision not to introduce a circuit-breaker later in 2020.
‘I take personal responsibility for all the decisions that we made,’ he replied.
‘With hindsight, it may be easy to see things that we could have done differently or it may be possible to see things that we could have done differently.
‘At the time, I felt and I know that everybody else felt that we were doing our best in very difficult circumstances to protect life and protect the NHS.’
Mr Johnson said that the only easy decision during the pandemic was to roll out the vaccines.
He told the inquiry: ‘When it came to the balance of the need to protect the public and protect the NHS and the damage done by lockdowns, it was incredibly difficult.’