During the United Kingdom's enquiry into the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic on Monday, 20 November, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak was reportedly quoted as saying that the British government should "just let people die" during the pandemic.
The statement emerged from a meeting noted in the diary of Patrick Vallance, the government's former chief scientific adviser, dated 25 October 2020, where then-PM Boris Johnson and Sunak, then-finance minister, were present.
The entry, which was presented to the inquiry, claimed that Johnson's senior-most adviser during the pandemic, Dominic Cummings, told Vallance about what he heard during the meeting with Sunak.
Vallance quoted Dominic Cummings in the diary entry, who reportedly said:
"Rishi thinks just let people die and that's okay. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership."
While Downing Street declined to confirm whether it would be okay to “just let people die" during the COVID pandemic, according to The Guardian, it said that the PM will set his position over the evidence before the Inquiry "rather than respond to each one in piecemeal".
The inquiry was also presented with an entry from Vallance's diary about the "shambolic" day of 25 October 2020, as the UK headed towards a second full national lockdown.
"PM meeting – begins to argue for letting it all rip. Saying yes there will be more casualties but so be it – ‘they have had a good innings’."
In July 2020, new insights from the pandemic diaries unveiled Sunak's efforts to challenge the advice of scientists. During an economics-focused meeting, Sunak remarked, "Managing the scientists is crucial, not just managing the virus," as noted in the entry.
“There were definitely periods when it was clear that the unwelcome advice we were giving was, as expected, not beloved, and that meant we had to work doubly hard to make sure that the science evidence and advice was being properly heard.”
Vallance said he would be “very surprised” if Sunak, then chancellor, had not learned about objections to his Eat Out to Help Out scheme, and added that scientists were not aware of the move until it was announced. The scheme was aimed to boost the hospitality sector following the 2020 lockdown by offering a discount in cafes and restaurants.
While Sunak wrote to inquiry claiming that he "did not recall any concerns about the scheme” being raised during ministerial meetings, Vallance emphasised that it would have been "obvious" that the move would lead to an increased risk of transmission.
Meanwhile, it highlighted how Boris Johnson wanted to let the the COVID virus spread. It quoted Johnson as saying:
“Most people who die have reached their time anyway.”
Vallance provided additional evidence indicating that Boris Johnson occasionally encountered difficulty grasping fundamental scientific concepts related to COVID-19, such as the consequences of a nationwide lockdown as the virus progressed, and added that there were instances where these concepts had to be explained to him multiple times.
Moreover, he claimed that Johnson, who repeatedly changed his mind over a second lockdown, was "influenced a lot by the press”.