- Boris Johnson said the UK should just “ignore” coronavirus last year, the BBC reported.
- The UK went on to become one of the worst-hit countries in the world during the pandemic.
- Johnson’s government was reportedly pursuing a “herd immunity” strategy.
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Boris Johnson suggested last year said the UK should just “ignore” the coronavirus and it would go away, shortly before it became one of the worst hit countries in the world, the BBC reported.
The UK prime minister, who has reportedly told colleagues in recent weeks that he regrets not reacting quickly enough to the coronavirus pandemic, made the comments to colleagues on January 31, the same day the first cases of coronavirus were reported in the UK.
According to the BBC’s political editor Laura Kuenssberg, Johnson was overheard saying: “The best thing would be to ignore it,” and claimed that an overreaction to the virus could do more harm than good.
“The general view was it is just hysteria. It was just like a flu,” a source told the BBC of the view of coronavirus in Downing Street.
Johnson’s government was privately considering pursuing a “herd immunity” strategy, with aides even discussing encouraging so-called “chicken pox parties” to increase the speed of the virus’ spread.
“There was even talk of ‘chicken pox parties’, where healthy people might be encouraged to gather to spread the disease,” the BBC reported.
The prime minister later decided to ignore instructions by aides before the first major coronavirus press briefing on March 3 to tell members of the public to stop shaking each other’s hands, the BBC reported.
Instead, the prime minister announced at the press conference that he had shaken the hands of everybody at a hospital where patients infected with COVID-19 were being treated.
“I was at a hospital the other night where I think a few there were actually coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands,” he said.
It would not be until March 23 that Johnson introduced a full national lockdown, during which the public was barred from leaving their homes for nonessential purposes.
Johnson has repeatedly been criticized for failing to introduce a lockdown sooner, despite the fact countries including Italy – which were experiencing more advanced coronavirus outbreaks – had started canceling mass gatherings and closing schools weeks earlier than the UK.
Britain now has the highest coronavirus death toll in Europe. Johnson has reportedly told close allies that he would have acted “harder, earlier, and faster” and said it was a mistake not to implement the first lockdown sooner.
Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the government’s leading advisers on coronavirus, said in June last year that the government could have saved 20,000 lives if it had introduced lockdown sooner.
“Had we introduced lockdown a week earlier we’d have reduced the final death toll by at least half,” Ferguson told members of parliament last year.
“The measures, given what we knew about the virus then, were warranted. Certainly had we introduced them earlier we’d have seen many fewer deaths.”
Johnson’s spokesman declined to deny the details of the BBC report.
“Throughout the pandemic what we have done is what we think is the best course of action for protecting lives,” they said at a regular press briefing.