Johnson suggested Covid was nature dealing with elderly, inquiry hears

Johnson Suggested Covid Was Nature Dealing With Elderly, Inquiry Hears
Dominic Cummings hit out at a ‘dysfunctional system’ as the former UK prime minister ‘trollied’ indecisively. Photo: PA Images
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Sam Blewett, David Hughes, Josh Payne and Sophie Wingate, PA

Boris Johnson’s chaotic indecisiveness delayed lockdown measures, two of his top advisers have said, as it was alleged he believed Covid was “nature’s way of dealing with old people”.

Dominic Cummings told the UK's Covid inquiry on Tuesday how the “dysfunctional system” during a “meltdown of the British state” failed to deal with the crisis, as the former UK prime minister downplayed the pandemic.


Lee Cain, who served as No 10’s communications director, criticised Mr Johnson’s tendency to “oscillate” between decisions for holding up the UK government’s response.


The UK Covid-19 Inquiry saw diary entries from Sir Patrick Vallance saying Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life” and getting the economy running.

But Mr Cummings also faced heavy scrutiny over his lockdown drive to Durham and his “misogynistic” use of language about one of the highest ranking female civil servants.

Mr Cummings, who was Mr Johnson’s chief adviser, took aim at much of the government during the “nightmare” of the pandemic as he gave evidence at the west London inquiry.

Appearing in an unironed shirt, he had to apologise for calling ministers “useless f***pigs, morons, c****” but said his language only “understated” their incompetence.


He described the Cabinet Office as a “bomb site” and a “dumpster fire” and said a “fatalistic” attitude swept through government early in the pandemic response.

Mr Cummings said vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities and domestic abuse victims were “entirely appallingly neglected” during lockdown considerations.

He said “one of the most appalling things” was the lack of a shielding plan in March 2020 “and the Cabinet Office was trying to block us creating a shielding plan”.



Mr Cain repeatedly cited Mr Johnson’s tendency to “oscillate” between decisions as delaying the crisis response.

Principal inquiry lawyer Hugo Keith KC asked Mr Cummings whether the trolley term was used to describe Mr Johnson’s propensity to change direction.


“Pretty much everyone called him a trolley, yes,” Mr Cummings said.

He suggested in written evidence that Mr Johnson was guilty of “wild oscillations” over lockdown.

Mr Cain, a long-term adviser to Mr Johnson who worked with him on the Brexit campaign, said his former boss’s erratic decision-making was “rather exhausting”.

Messages between him and Mr Cummings showed them venting their frustrations on WhatsApp.

“Get in here he’s melting down,” Mr Cummings wrote on March 19th, 2020, days before the first lockdown, adding that Mr Johnson was “back to Jaws mode w***”.

“I’ve literally said the same thing 10 f****** times and he still won’t absorb it,” he added.


Explaining the Jaws reference, Mr Cain told the inquiry that Mr Johnson would refer to the mayor from the Steven Spielberg film “who wanted to keep the beaches open”.

“I think he had a routine from previous in his career where he would use that as a joke from one of his after-dinner speeches,” he said.

“The mayor was right all along to keep the beaches open because it would have been a long-term harm to the community – so it’s a sort of sub-reference to that.”

Mr Cain was more cautious than Mr Cummings by avoiding saying their old ally was not up to the job as UK prime minister.

“I think at that point – and it’s quite a strong thing to say – what would probably be clear in Covid is it was the wrong crisis for this prime minister’s skillset,” Mr Cain said.

A message from Mr Cummings sent on March 3rd, 2020, said Mr Johnson did not believe Covid was a “big deal and he doesn’t think anything can be done”.

He wrote to Mr Cain that “his focus is elsewhere, he thinks it’ll be like swine flu and he thinks his main danger is talking (the) economy into a slump”.

Twenty days later, on March 23rd, Mr Johnson ordered the UK into lockdown to slow the spread of Covid.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson’s decision-making was described as ‘rather exhausting’ (Victoria Jones/PA)

Mr Cain’s written evidence showed that Mr Johnson and others agreed in a meeting on March 14 that year that a full lockdown was the only way to save the NHS from collapse.

Asked if that was a longer-than-desired wait until the lockdown was announced, he said: “Yes, but I think you also have to consider it’s quite a big undertaking to lock down the entire country.”

Sir Patrick, the government’s chief scientific adviser during Covid-19, wrote about his own frustrations in dealing with Mr Johnson in his diaries.

The adviser wrote in August 2020 that Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”.

“Quite bonkers set of exchanges,” he said, referring to the “PM WhatsApp group”.

Then, in December 2020, Sir Patrick wrote that Mr Johnson said he believed he had been “acting early” and that the “public are with him (but his party is not)”.

“He says his party ‘thinks the whole thing is pathetic and Covid is just Nature’s way of dealing with old people – and I am not entirely sure I disagree with them. A lot of moderate people think it is a bit too much’.”

Messages shown to the inquiry showed that in October 2020, Mr Johnson stressed the need to “recalibrate” away from a nationwide lockdown because it was mainly elderly people dying.

Former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain
Former Downing Street director of communications Lee Cain gave evidence to the UK Covid-19 Inquiry (James Manning/PA)

After looking at data on age and fatalities, Mr Johnson suggested “get Covid and live longer”.

But there was also scrutiny of Mr Cummings, as one of the key figures in the response until he left No 10 towards the end of 2020.

It emerged that Mr Johnson raged in messages from 2021 that he was a “total and utter liar” as his lockdown trip to Barnard Castle became public.

In another message Mr Johnson hit out at a “totally disgusting orgy of narcissism by a government that should be solving a national crisis”.

The inquiry was shown that Mr Cummings talked about wanting to “personally handcuff” and eject then-deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara from the premises.

“I don’t care how it’s done but that woman must be out of our hair – we cannot keep dealing with this horrific meltdown of the British state while dodging stilettos from that c***,” he wrote.

He apologised for his “deplorable” language in the WhatsApp messages but said he was “not misogynistic”.

“I was much ruder about men than I was about Helen,” he said.

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