A former aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain deepened his attacks on his former boss this week, saying that Mr. Johnson made dismissive comments about the pandemic’s toll on older people as cases rose in the country last year.
Dominic Cummings, once one of Mr. Johnson’s closest advisers, was fired as the two fell out last November and has since become something of a whistle blower. In parliamentary testimony this May, he accused Mr. Johnson of incompetence that had caused tens of thousands of extra Covid deaths.
On Tuesday, Mr. Cummings said in an interview with the BBC that Mr. Johnson expressed hesitancy about ordering a second shutdown last fall, saying that “the people who are dying are essentially all over 80.”
The BBC said Mr. Cummings provided a WhatsApp message from October 2020 in which Mr. Johnson said, “I no longer buy all this nhs overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate.”
In the interview, Mr. Cummings said the prime minister’s attitude about the pandemic last fall “was a weird mix of, partly ‘It’s all nonsense and lockdowns don’t work anyway’ and partly ‘Well this is terrible but the people who are dying are essentially all over 80 and we can’t kill the economy just because of people dying over 80.’”
“He put his own political interests ahead of people’s lives, for sure,” Mr. Cummings said.
Mr. Johnson faced questions about Mr. Cummings’s comments on Wednesday from Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, who asked Mr. Johnson whether he would apologize.
The prime minister, addressing Parliament virtually while he is in quarantine after being exposed to someone who tested positive for coronavirus, sidestepped.
“These are incredibly tough, balancing decisions that you have to take,” Mr. Johnson said. “You have to balance the catastrophe of the disease against the suffering that is caused by lockdowns.” He then shifted to praising Britain’s rapid vaccine rollout and urging people to get vaccinated.
Mr. Starmer asked whether the virtual connection with prime minister was working properly, “Because the prime minister’s answers have no resemblance to the questions I’m actually asking him.” The question drew chuckles from members of Parliament.
Since the pandemic began, more than 5.5 million coronavirus cases have been recorded in the United Kingdom, including that of Mr. Johnson, who was hospitalized and required treatment in intensive care in April 2020. More than 128,000 British residents have died from the coronavirus.