Covid Inquiry LIVE: Cummings claimed Sunak said 'just let people die' during pandemic, diary from science chief says

Rishi Sunak thought the Government should “let people die” of Covid during the pandemic, according to Dominic Cummings.

In a bombshell extract from Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary given to the Covid Inquiry, the chief scientific adviser quoted Mr Cummings as saying: “Rishi [Sunak] thinks just let people die and that's okay".

It came as former Prime Minister Boris Johnson debated whether to impose a second national lockdown with ministers and advisers on October 25, 2020.

Mr Johnson was said to have been "getting very frustrated" and "throwing papers down" during the meeting, claiming that "most people who die have reached their time anyway".

Sir Patrick wrote: "This all feels like a complete lack of leadership."

Meanwhile, Sir Patrick told the inquiry that former health secretary Matt Hancock had a habit of saying things that were not true during the pandemic.

He said: “I think he had a habit of saying things which he didn’t have a basis for and he would say them too enthusiastically too early, without the evidence to back them up, and then have to backtrack from them days later.

“I don’t know to what extent that was sort of over-enthusiasm versus deliberate – I think a lot of it was over-enthusiasm.

“He definitely said things which surprised me because I knew that the evidence base wasn’t there.”

Follow live updates below...

Live coverage ends

Monday 20 November 2023 18:09 , Miriam Burrell

Our live coverage of the Covid Inquiry is ending for today.


Johnson thought plans for schools 'probably feeble'

Monday 20 November 2023 17:29 , Miriam Burrell

Boris Johnson described former education secretary Gavin Williamson’s plans for schools during the pandemic as “probably feeble”, the Covid-19 Inquiry has heard.

A senior civil servant also suggested giving Mr Williamson an “illusion of ownership” in an apparent lack of confidence in his ability, according to personal notes taken by the Government’s former scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

An entry on June 11 2020 references Jonathan Slater, the then permanent secretary at the Department for Education.

It said: “Slater basically described keeping Gavin Williamson away from policy development but give him an illusion ownership ‘but not his area and not his expertise’.

“‘I don’t know what Gavin’s plan for schools is but probably pretty feeble’ – PM.”

Sir Patrick later confirmed to the inquiry that he was directly quoting Mr Johnson.

Johnson on school closures: 'I just want pupils back at school'

Monday 20 November 2023 17:13 , Miriam Burrell

The Covid-19 Inquiry heard that in August 2020 Boris Johnson did not want to hear about plans for failure, and just wanted children back to school in September without Covid being used as an "excuse".

On August 6, 2020, Sir Patrick Vallance wrote in his notebook: "PM Covid (S) meeting on schools.

'Don't want to hear about plan B and C for failure. I just want pupils back at school’ […] 'We are no longer taking this Covid excuse stuff. Get back to school'."

Sir Patrick Vallance's diary extract from 'shambolic day' in full

Monday 20 November 2023 17:03 , Miriam Burrell

Sir Patrick Vallance has finished giving evidence to the Covid Inquiry for today.

Boris Johnson wanted to let Covid “rip” despite the fact people would die, while Rishi Sunak also thought that was “okay”, shocking revelations from Sir Patrick Vallance’s pandemic diaries showed.

An extract from his diary of the “shambolic” day on October 25 2020, when the country was heading towards a second national lockdown, was shown to the public inquiry.

The extract read: "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’.

"Not persuaded by (Jon) Edmunds, (Neil) Ferguson, (Jeremy) Farrar. PM says ‘the population just has to behave doesn’t it’.

"Heat maps ‘I have the necrotising maps’ so depressing.

"DC says trajectory will leave us in Nov – much as where we were in 1st week of April.

"Chris quite bullish about being able to take the brakes off more in April…

"Goes on about Gulf War Syndrome again… PM getting very frustrated – throwing papers down.

"PM then back on to ‘most people who die have reached their time anyway’.

"DC arguing we need to save lives – it is not democratically possible to follow another route…

"DC argued again (rightly) that a lockdown’s coming and therefore do it sooner rather than later.

"PM concludes, ‘Looks like we are in a really tough spot, a complete shambles.’

"'I really don’t want to do another national lockdown’.

"PM told that if he wants to go down this route of letting go, ‘you need to tell people – you need to tell them you are going to allow people to die’

"Conclusion – beef up the tiers – consider a national lockdown – decide by when.

"DC says ‘Rishi thinks just let people die and that’s okay’.

"This all feels like a complete lack of leadership.”

Asked about the diary entry, Sir Patrick told the inquiry he was recording what must have been “quite a shambolic day”.

Downing St declines to comment on 'just let people die' claim

Monday 20 November 2023 16:44 , Miriam Burrell

Downing Street declined to say whether Rishi Sunak thought it would be okay to "just let people die" during the pandemic, saying it would be for the Prime Minister to set out his position during evidence before the Covid Inquiry.

"The Prime Minister is due to give evidence before the inquiry at the time of their choosing. That's when he'll set out his position," Mr Sunak’s official spokesman said.

No 10 would not be drawn on whether the PM had consulted scientists on the transmission risk of the Eat Out to Help Out scheme before announcing it.

The Downing Street official said a number of people will be setting out their views of the period, but "rather than respond to each one in piecemeal, it’s right that it is looked at alongside other evidence".

Vallance said ministers were as 'meek as mice'

Monday 20 November 2023 16:18 , Sami Quadri

Sir Patrick Vallance described Cabinet ministers as “meek as mice” and accused them of an “abrogation of responsibility” for not imposing recommended measures to curb the spread of Covid.

In an entry in his personal notes dated October 11 2020, the Government’s former chief scientific adviser welcomed being dropped from a press conference in favour of then chancellor Rishi Sunak.

Sir Patrick said: “Good. They need to understand and own the decisions they’re making … being asked to approve the measures, knowing that it’s not enough, gave the example that Bolton worked, but only because hospitality fully closed.

“This is a massive abrogation of responsibility.”

He then references various Cabinet ministers at the time, with Grant Shapps and Ben Wallace described as having “got it” in backing tighter restrictions.

Sir Patrick later adds: “While waiting someone clearly not on mute – baby crying and then she starts singing ‘the wheels on the bus’ – somehow symbolic of the shambles.”

He then writes that Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the current package of measures are unlikely to reduce infections.

Sir Patrick adds: “[Then health secretary Matt] Hancock says this is our last shot at avoiding national lockdown… meek as mice Cabinet members.”

Eat Out to Help Out 'highly likely' to have led to more deaths

Monday 20 November 2023 15:59 , Daniel Keane

Sir Patrick Vallance is now being quizzed by a lawyer representing the families of Covid victims.

He is asked whether he believes that the Eat Out to Help Out policy, introduced in summer 2020 to boost the hospitality industry, led to more deaths.

Sir Patrick says that he believes it was "highly likely to have done so".

Vallance described Johnson as 'weak, indecisive PM'

Monday 20 November 2023 15:49 , Daniel Keane

Sir Patrick Vallance described Boris Johnson as "weak" and "indecisive", according to a diary extract shown to the Covid inquiry.

He also described the "right-wing press" as "culpable" in delaying the decision to lock down in October 2020.

Sir Patrick said the note was a "late-night moment of frustration" but that Mr Johnson was "influenced a lot by the press".

Sunak thought Government should 'let people die', Cummings claimed

Monday 20 November 2023 15:25 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry is shown an extract from Sir Patrick's diary, dated October 25, 2020.

In the entry, Sir Patrick recalls a meeting in which Boris Johnson argued that the Government should "let Covid rip".

He acknowledged that this approach would cause more deaths, but responded "so be it".

Mr Johnson was said to have been "getting very frustrated" and "throwing papers down" during the meeting, claiming that "most people who die have reached their time anyway".

The former scientific adviser also revealed a quote from former chief No10 advisor Dominic Cummings, who said: "Rishi [Sunak] thinks just let people die and that's okay".

Mr Sunak was serving as Chancellor at the time.

Johnson 'very sceptical' about long Covid

Monday 20 November 2023 15:06 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson was "very sceptical" about the risks of long Covid and likened it to "Gulf War syndrome", according to an extract from Sir Patrick's diary.

Asked about his comments, Sir Patrick said: "I don't think that the PM was keen to take this into account for policymaking."

"The recommendation during the pandemic was to keep prevalence low. The consequence of higher infections was more people with long Covid... I don't think that is something that policymakers wanted to factor in."

Vallance: Government was reluctant to impose measures to curb Covid transmission

Monday 20 November 2023 14:50 , Daniel Keane

Sir Patrick is asked about a section of his witness statement in which he writes that interventions to reduce transmission should be "earlier and harder than what you would like", and claims that there was "great reluctance to take these actions at every stage of the pandemic".

He responded: "In the first wave we didn't go early enough. There was a trickling of measures when we should have done more simultaneously.

"For some geographical areas put into different measures, the temptation was always to make it as minor as possible. That failed because the surrounding areas became overwhelmed."

He added: "Everyone's instinct was to delay just a bit too much, or to argue that the measures shouldn't be quite as strict."

Vallance and Whitty 'did no seek role' at press conferences

Monday 20 November 2023 14:36 , Daniel Keane

In his witness statement, Sir Patrick Vallance says that he and chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty "did not seek" a role at daily Covid press conferences led by Boris Johnson.

Both regularly attended daily press conferences with Mr Johnson and other government ministers.

Sir Patrick was asked whether his presence could lead to confusion over whether independent advisors endorsed Government policy.

He responded: "There were occasions where we disagreed at the podium, but at least we explained the evidence underpinning each decision."

He added: "My gut feeling is that it was beneficial for us to be there... but if someone had told me that I didn't have to do another press conference, I wouldn't have lost any sleep over it."

Vallance frustrated by lack of modelling on economic impact

Monday 20 November 2023 14:15 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry has now resumed after a lunch break.

Sir Patrick is asked about an extract in which he expresses frustration at the Treasury's claim that the economy was "nearly back to normal" in October 2021.

He responded: "I did think there was a lack of transparency on an economic side, and it was difficult to know what modelling had been done around certain assumptions that were made about the economy.

"It also wasn't publicly available and that created an imbalance. The scientific advice was there for everyone to see, but the economic advice wasn't. It unfairly weighed the scientific advice in the public mind."

Today's main highlights so far

Monday 20 November 2023 13:43 , Daniel Keane

For anyone who has just tuned into the inquiry, here are the highlights from testimony given by Sir Patrick Vallance:

- Sir Patrick told the inquiry he was concerned over the Government’s “operational response” to limiting the spread of Covid-19 during the pandemic’s early months

- Boris Johnson was left "distressed" after a memorial service for the Battle of Britain in September 2020, and began to "challenge numbers" and "question whether they really translate into deaths"

- Sir Patrick worried that Mr Johnson was left "bamboozled" by Covid science and that "watching [the] PM get his head around stats was awful"

- Scientific advisers were not aware of the Treasury's "Eat Out to Help Out" until it was announced but would have opposed the policy, Sir Patrick said

The Government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the inquiry (PA Media)
The Government’s former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance giving evidence to the inquiry (PA Media)

Covid Inquiry breaks for lunch

Monday 20 November 2023 13:21 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry has now broken for lunch, but it will return from 2pm.

Scientific advisors not told about Eat Out to Help Out policy

Monday 20 November 2023 13:09 , Daniel Keane

Sir Patrick Vallance has told the inquiry that scientific advisers were not aware of the Treasury's "Eat Out to Help Out" policy until it was announced.

"I think it is fairly clear what our advice would have been on that," he said.

"These are policy choices, but we should at least have seen and had a chance to comment on it."

"It is what I say to science advisers in every department, make sure you are at the table for those policy discussions rather than having people coming to you with a question later on."

Asked why he opposed the Eat Out to Help Out policy, Sir Patrick responded: "Until that point the message had been clear that interaction with other households in an enclosed environment was a high risk activity.

"That policy completely reversed it... It was a totally different public health message.

"It is very likely to have had an impact on transmission."

Scientists feared ideas would be leaked to newspapers

Monday 20 November 2023 12:54 , Daniel Keane

Scientists feared speaking in meetings as they were worried their ideas would be leaked to the media, the inquiry has been told.

In an extract from his diary, Sir Patrick recalls having to "calm down" scientists after an article appeared in the Guardian "with quotes from people and SPI-B".

SPI-B was a group that advised SAGE on behavioural science.

"People were concerned about expressing their views for fear that that was then going to appear in a newspaper," Sir Patrick told the inquiry.

"I think it's very difficult to run a government advisory committee if things are perpetually being discussed in the press."

Former PM was 'bamboozled' by Covid data, inquiry hears

Monday 20 November 2023 12:44 , Daniel Keane

In an extract from Sir Patrick's diary, he describes how he and Sir Chris Whitty "took care to explain scientific concepts in a way which was comprehensible to non-scientists", such as Government ministers.

On May 4, 2020, Sir Patrick wrote: "Late afternoon meeting with the PM [Boris Johnson] on schools. My god this is complicated and models will not provide the answer.

"PM is clearly bamboozled."

And in an extract from June 11, Sir Patrick wrote: "Watching [the] PM get his head around stats is awful. He finds relative and absolute risk almost impossible to understand."

Johnson wondered whether high Covid spread was due to 'libertarian nation'

Monday 20 November 2023 12:31 , Daniel Keane

The inquiry is shown an extract of a diary entry written by Sir Patrick Vallance on September 20, 2020 - weeks before the second national lockdown.

In the entry, Sir Patrick says Boris Johnson was left "distressed" after seeing people wearing masks at a memorial service for the Battle of Britain.

After the event, Mr Johnson began to "challenge numbers" and "question whether they really translate into deaths", according to the extract.

He is also said to have asked whether high Covid cases were down to England being a "libertarian nation" and feared "we are too s*** to get our act together".

Pressed on whether Mr Johnson heeded scientific advice, Sir Patrick responds: "It wasn't always easy to provide advice in a way that was understood and actionable by the Prime Minister.

"I doubt this is surprising to many people."

Suggestions Covid could overwhelm NHS in January 2020

Monday 20 November 2023 11:49 , Rachael Burford

The inquiry has been shown a January 2020 email from Professor Mark Woolhouse which suggested that Covid would overwhelm the health system if it reached the UK.

But Sir Patrick Vallance said at that stage of the pandemic - before the World Health Organisation had declared it an emergency of international concern - it was not known whether the virus would be contained.

He said: "I don't think at that stage this had escaped China in a sort of uncontrolled way.

"So the first question was would it fully escape China in an uncontrolled way? The second thing is that we didn't really know on the overall transmissibility as to whether this would be contained in the way that Sars and Mers had been contained...

"And so I don't think it was inevitable at that moment that this would spread and you can see lots of opinions being expressed quite forcibly by people around then as to whether it would or wouldn't reach right the way across the world."

Concern about Government's early response to pandemic

Monday 20 November 2023 11:45 , Rachael Burford

There was concern that the Government's "operational response" to limiting the spread of Covid during the pandemic's early months was not "very effective", Sir Patrick says.

In February 2020 discussions were being held by ministers and medical experts regarding measures to prevent the NHS from being overwhelmed.

Sir Patrick said then-prime minister Boris Johnson had begun to consider lockdown options.

He tells the inquiry: "There was lots of evidence that there were things that needed to happen in order to achieve suppressing the curve.

"I'm not convinced that there was a very effective operational response to that."

Covid Inquiry (CovidInquiry)
Covid Inquiry (CovidInquiry)

Worldwide Covid spread "not inevitable"

Monday 20 November 2023 11:33 , Rachael Burford

It was not "inevitable" that Covid would spread worldwide after the first cases were reported in China.

Sir Patrick says it was "difficult to know" whether the virus was going to be contained in January 2020.

"It became spread much more easily than anyone had anticipated. That's what was not known at the time."

But in early 2020 it looked like “extremely high” deaths and infections were possible, he adds.

"It hadn't been declared a pandemic at that point," Sir Patrick says.

"Not everyone was behaving as though this was going to happen."

'No intention' of pandemic diaries ever being made public

Monday 20 November 2023 11:03 , Rachael Burford

Sir Patrick had "no intention" of his diary entries from the pandemic "ever seeing the light of day".

He admitted some notes made when he was chief scientific adviser may contradict each other.

Giving evidence, Sir Patrick said: "I had no intention whatsoever of these ever seeing the light of day or me looking at them again, and sort of felt the world probably had enough of books and reflections of people's thoughts during Covid."

He added that the diary was a way of protecting his mental health from the daily stresses of his job, saying: "At the end of each day, often quite late in the evening, I would just spend a few minutes jotting down some thoughts from that day, and things and reflections, and did it as a way to get that, in a sense, out of the way so that I could concentrate on the following day.

"These were private thoughts. They were instant reflections from a day. And once they were written, I actually never looked at them again.

"They were put in a drawer and that was that. I certainly had no intention of doing anything else with them either."

Sir Patrick begins evidence

Monday 20 November 2023 10:43 , Rachael Burford

Sir Patrick has prepared a 200-page witness statement that will be addressed throughout his evidence today, lawyer Andrew O'Connor KC says.

Today we will hear him questioned on a range of topics, including extracts from his pandemic diaries which he voluntarily submitted to the inquiry.

Who is Sir Patrick Vallance?

Monday 20 November 2023 10:32 , Rachael Burford

Sir Patrick Vallance was the government's chief scientific adviser from 2018 until he stepped down this year.

He has decades of experience in medical research and taught at St George’s hospital in London and UCL Medical School before joining drugs giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2006 as head of drug discovery.

In April 2018 he began his five-year tenure as Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government, replacing Sir Chris Whitty.

Sir Patrick was responsible for chairing the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) a committee of scientists responsible for advising ministers on Covid.

During the pandemic he became a household name due to his many appearances at the Covid news conferences alongside then PM Boris Johnson and cabinet ministers.