Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “dismissive of the disaster” and called long Covid “b*****ks”, an inquest heard on Tuesday.
Mr Johnson was also accused of failing to lead the country in the early days of the crisis, the UK Covid Inquiry has learned.
As the second part of the inquiry began, the group Bereaved Families for Justice said there was a “leadership vacuum” in the early days of the crisis and accused Mr Johnson of “cavalier” public messaging a few only weeks before the first confinement.
And Long Covid groups claimed the former Prime Minister initially “denied the truth about the suffering” of Long Covid patients.
Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak insisted he was “significantly” helping the investigation after it was claimed he was unable to provide WhatsApp messages because he did not have managed to save them. The Prime Minister wrote in his statement to the inquiry that he had “no access” to messages from his time as Chancellor because he had changed phones several times.
Asked by BBC News at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester whether it was true he no longer had WhatsApp messages, Mr Sunak refused to be drawn, saying: “What I can tell you, because this is obviously an ongoing legal proceeding, is that I am assisting the Covid investigation fully and very, very extensively with everything.
Anthony Metzer KC, speaking on behalf of the long Covid groups, told the inquiry: “In October 2020, as the Department of Health and Social Care published guidance on long Covid and called for recognition and support for people with long Covid, then Prime Minister. Boris Johnson scribbled in capital letters that for a long time Covid was “b*****ks”.
“Mr. Johnson admitted in his witness statement that he did not believe Covid actually existed, calling it a ‘Gulf War syndrome thing’. The aim of the investigation will be to determine how the former Prime Minister could have had this view in October 2020.”
He added: “Adults and children suffered and still suffer from debilitating, painful and terrifying symptoms for months and now years after infection, and yet Mr Johnson denied the truth about their suffering.
“The UK’s top decision-makers were dismissing, downplaying and disbelieving in the very existence and risk of long Covid.”
The inquiry’s lead counsel, Hugo Keith KC, also revealed WhatsApp messages between Boris Johnson, his former chief political adviser Dominic Cummings and others, describing “a depressing picture of a toxic atmosphere” during the pandemic , Sky News reported.
The messages also showed “factional infighting and internecine attacks on colleagues,” Mr Keith said. A significant number of messages and diary entries are said to refer to then-Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
Mr Keith said: “A text from Simon Case, then a senior civil servant who has not yet become cabinet secretary to (former Health Secretary) Matt Hancock, on April 29 says: ‘The Cabinet Office is currently in a totally dysfunctional mess, so not a great place to be. »
But the investigation also found that key WhatsApp messages from the then Prime Minister from January 31 to June 7, 2020 are “irrecoverable”.
The loss of these messages is a “remarkable and unfortunate coincidence”, barrister Peter Weatherby KC, of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, told the inquest.
Mr Weatherby asked experts to examine the phone to see if the messages could be recovered “and if they could have been deleted”.
“Mr Johnson claims that although he downloaded the phone, WhatsApp messages from the crucial period January 31 to June 7, 2020 are unrecoverable,” Mr Weatherby said.
“A remarkable and unfortunate coincidence, we would say. We request that the investigation be entrusted to experts to determine why these messages cannot be recovered and whether they could have been deleted.
Diary notes from Sir Patrick Vallance were also read on Tuesday, in which the government’s former chief scientific adviser criticized Mr Johnson’s “impossible about-face” and “bipolar decision-making” – writing about the “chaos as usual” in Downing Street after a meeting on social distancing, the BBC reported.
His notes reportedly read: “The meeting on the two meter rule on Friday made it clear that no one at Number 10 or the Cabinet Office had actually read or taken the time to understand the scientific advice on the two meters. Quite extraordinary.
The notes also alleged factional fighting within Number 10 involving Michael Gove and also Mr Johnson’s wife Carrie.
In other entries, Sir Patrick reportedly said he felt scientists were being “used as human shields” by ministers. On September 19, 2020, he wrote: “(Johnson) is everywhere and therefore completely incoherent. You can understand why it was so difficult to get the lockdown agreed the first time around. »
Mr Weatherby said Mr Johnson “failed to take the emerging threat seriously” by calling on the inquiry to examine “whether vital time to develop a contingency plan and act was wasted” and that preparations Key events may not have taken place “because part of the government was in denial, and others had a false sense of its own preparedness.”
The inquest also heard that a Cobra meeting was briefed about Covid on January 29 – but Mr Johnson was not present.
Mr Weatherby said: “He didn’t stay at Cobra for more than a month until March. He will tell us that he left things to others, but the reality is that there was a lack of leadership.
He added: “It took two months into the emergency before Mr Johnson attended his first Cobra meeting, on March 2, the day before embarking on what can only be described as a cavalier and incredibly unhelpful public message when he visited the Royal Free Hospital telling the media: “I think there were a few coronavirus patients there and I shook everyone’s hands, you’ll be happy to know, and I’ll keep shaking hands.”
“It is difficult to view his actions and comments in the media as anything other than contempt for a disaster that had been looming for two months and was now imminent.”
Mr Weatherby also made reference to the Eat Out to Help Out scheme. “It appears it was deployed without any scientific advice,” he said.
“We anticipate that scientists will say that their advice would have been strongly opposed to such a far-fetched project.
“The inquiry will have to determine whether the government actually followed the science or whether (then chancellor) Mr Sunak’s flagship policy accelerated the next wave of infections.”
Mr Johnson, his former chief aide Dominic Cummings, Rishi Sunak and former health secretary Matt Hancock are expected to speak at the inquiry, alongside top scientific and medical advisers. The hearings are expected to continue until 2026, but with interim reports released before then.
The current hearings focus on the second of four modules into which the investigation has been divided: resilience and preparedness; central decision-making and political governance in the UK; the impact of the pandemic on healthcare; and vaccines and therapeutic products.
In his opening statement in June, the inquiry’s lead lawyer said the nation was “taken by surprise” by “significant aspects” of the disease that were recorded on more than 225,000 death certificates.
Mr Keith suggested that Brexit preparations “crowded out and prevented” the work needed to improve pandemic preparedness, while bereaved families warned that evidence from the inquiry was likely to show that the “chaos” within government has led to a slow response to a pandemic where “time wasted is measured”. in lives lost.”