Rishi Sunak thought it was OK to let people die, Covid inquiry told in bombshell claim

Rishi Sunak said the government should just “let people die” during the coronavirus pandemic, the Covid inquiry was quoted as saying.

In one of the most explosive claims heard at the inquest so far, the prime minister, who was chancellor at the time, is reported to have said “just let people die and that's okay”.

The accusation, made by former chief of staff Dominic Cummings, was recorded in Sir Patrick Vallance's diary. The former chief scientific adviser made the note after a “symbolic” meeting on Covid restrictions in October 2020.

According to the diary, then Prime Minister Boris Johnson had claimed he “let it all rip”. Mr Cummings, who was then Mr Johnson's senior adviser, then shared Mr Sunak's alleged comment in agreement with Mr Johnson.

Although Sir Patrick said he had not personally heard Mr Sunack express such a view, he told the inquest: “That's what Dominic Cummings said.”

A spokesman for Mr Sunak said he would not “respond to each allegation piecemeal”, but the public “will hear from the Prime Minister when he gives evidence”.

The bombshell revelation was just one of many damning claims about Mr Sunak's role during the pandemic, with Sir Patrick also accusing him of sparking a second wave of the pandemic with the controversial Eat Out to Help Out programme.

The scheme, which offered guests a 50% discount on meals to boost the recovery of the hospitality industry, was widely blamed for increasing Covid transmission.

On Monday, Sir Patrick said it was “very difficult” to see how Eat Out to Help Out would not have increased transmission.

And he revealed that he and other scientific advisers, including the chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, were not told about the plan until it was announced.

In a damning assessment of the policy, Sir Patrick told the inquiry: “Up until that point, the message had been very clear that interaction between different households and people you did not live with in a closed environment with many others was a high risk activity.

“This policy completely reversed that by saying we're going to pay you to go into an environment with people from other households and mingle in an indoor environment for periods of a few hours or more.”

Asked if Mr Sunak knew the policy would boost Covid infections before he rolled it out, Sir Patrick said he would be “very surprised” if not – directly contradicting a claim in the now prime minister's witness statement. Mr Sunak said he had “no recollection” of any concerns about the scheme, including from Sir Chris and Sir Patrick.

However, the coroner for the Covid inquiry, Andrew O'Connor KC, hinted that there was a “particular inconsistency” between the Prime Minister and Sir Patrick's claims, given that scientists were not told about Eat Out to help.

The revelation came as Monday's hearing for the first time focused on Mr Sunak's approach to the health impact of the pandemic.

In an embarrassing diary entry for the Prime Minister, Sir Patrick revealed he said Covid was about “handling scientists, not handling the virus”, in a push to open the economy more quickly after lockdowns.

Mr Sunak made the claim during an online meeting of top advisers, not realizing that chief medical officer Sir Chris was present on the call.

A memo from Sir Patrick on July 2 read: “At the finance meeting earlier today they didn't realize the CMO (chief medical officer Sir Chris Whitty) was there and the CX (then chancellor Rishi Sunak), said, “It's all about handling the scientists, not handling the virus.”

“Then they were upset when the CMO came in later and realized he had been there all along. The Prime Minister (then Prime Minister Boris Johnson) got angry and waffled for five minutes to cover his embarrassment.”

As more of Sir Patrick's diary entries surfaced at the inquiry, his frustration with Mr Sunak and the decision-making of other ministers became clearer.

Replaced by the then chancellor to lead a press conference in October 2020, Sir Patrick said: “Fine. They need to understand and own the decisions they make,” he wrote.

Sir Patrick's diaries have provided some of the most striking evidence the Covid inquiry has seen so far, including the revelation that Mr Johnson was “obsessed with old people accepting their fate” and letting younger people continue their lives”.

Asked about them on Monday, he said they were a daily “dump” to help him “decompress”, stressing they were “never meant to see the light of day”.