Boris Johnson did not stay alert, control the virus or save lives (Picture: Flickr/ Number 10)

Families bereaved during the Covid pandemic at last have a chance to confront Boris Johnson this week. The former prime minister was set to appear before the UK Covid-19 Inquiry on Wednesday and Thursday to give evidence. 

There he will have to explain why his government did everything in its power to safeguard profits, and as little as possible to stop the spread of the deadly virus. Lawyers for the victims’ families will ask him about his sayings such as “Let the bodies pile high,” and that older people who died “had a good innings”.  

They will want to know why his government was so woefully unprepared for a pandemic that its own reports predicted was an imminent threat. The hearing will also highlight Tory divisions, personal rivalries and the way the party is imploding.

No doubt Johnson likely treats the inquiry as though it were a dressing down by his house master at Eton College. He’ll smirk at the lawyers’ questions and ruffle his hair in a cartoonish way. But some 232,112 people are dead from Covid, and a great many of them would have stood a better chance if his government had not been in charge. 

Johnson not only has to answer for his hard right policies that let the virus rip and allowed “herd immunity” to take its toll. There is also the business of his own personal failings. Why did he decide to go on holiday in February 2020 just as scientists were predicting the NHS would be overwhelmed? 

The inquiry has already been told that for a vital ten-day period not one official was able to communicate with him. Why did he not chair a meeting of the government’s Cobra emergency group until March? His former chief advisor Dominic Cummings also accused him of “disappearing” to write a book about playwright William Shakespeare that he had already been paid for. 

Johnson will probably say that his government was slow to understand the severity of Covid and admit that the state was ill prepared. But he will insist he got “the big decisions” right. Really? The biggest life saving choices involved lockdowns that prevented disease transmission. On each of these Johnson sided with death and delay.  

The Tory right will hope desperately that he will not retreat on these questions. For them, that there was any lockdown at all, was a mistake. Its “survival of the fittest” motto means, even at the best of times, the “weak” and the “economically unproductive” are a burden on society. This is also the right wing faction that hopes to run the Tory party in the wake of a Rishi Sunak election wipeout next year. 

It hopes that Johnson will use his evidence to lob stones at Sunak, whose Eat Out To Help Out policy helped spread the virus.  We can be certain of two things at the inquiry. The suffering of the bereaved will be furthest from Johnson’s mind and it will do next to nothing to hold him accountable for his crimes.

‘Every week someone dies without any recognition of their suffering’

The Tories’ shameful response to the infected blood scandal continued this week after they successfully opposed moves in parliament to set up a new body to handle compensation. Up to 30,000 people were given contaminated blood products in the 1970s and 80s. Thousands have died. 

The government says it will not offer survivors and their relatives any interim compensation and will instead wait for the final report of the Infected Blood Inquiry. But in the meantime, every four days someone given infected blood dies—many without full compensation.  

Jason Evans from Coventry was four when his father died in 1993 after developing Aids and Hepatitis C. He got the infections after receiving Factor VIII—a clotting agent given to people with haemophilia and other bleeding disorders. “Every week or so someone I have known personally dies,” he said. “Interim compensation is key. 

“I often hear of parents who lost multiple children and they are now elderly and have received no recognition of what they have been through. Nothing.” The Tories agreed to make the first interim compensation payments of £100,000 each to about 4,000 surviving victims and bereaved spouses in August 2022. 

But the head of the inquiry, Brian Langstaff, said in April this year that the parents and children of victims should also receive compensation. He also called for a full compensation scheme to be set up immediately. The Tories have opposed this. Ministers hope their delaying tactics will limit final payouts because so many of the scandal’s victims and their immediate family will then be dead. 

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