In a pivotal COVID-19 inquiry, former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confessed that in hindsight, it might have been shrewd to cancel large-scale gatherings such as the Cheltenham Festival in March 2020. This acknowledgement came as he reflected on the government's handling of the pandemic, admitting that they had underestimated the scale and pace of the crisis.
Retrospection on Mass Gatherings
On March 7, 2020, Johnson was present at a rugby match in Twickenham. Subsequently, the Cheltenham Festival went ahead with 250,000 attendees, followed by a Champions League football match in Liverpool attended by 3,000 Atletico Madrid fans. Initially, Sage's scientific advice suggested that banning these events would have a negligible impact on virus transmission. The theory proposed that banning these events could exacerbate the situation by pushing fans into more intimate venues like pubs. Yet, Johnson now concedes that halting mass gatherings might have underscored the government's earnestness in tackling the pandemic.
Addressing 'Herd Immunity'
Johnson also clarified the misunderstanding caused by the concept of 'herd immunity.' He underscored that the government's strategy was to suppress the virus to shield the NHS, with 'herd immunity' being an inadvertent side effect of the campaign, not the objective. This perspective was shared by England's chief medical officer, Sir Chris Whitty, who agreed that although the impact on transmission might not have been substantial, the move would have conveyed a crucial message.
Regret and Reflection
Further, Johnson expressed regret for shaking hands with COVID-19 patients early in the pandemic, concurring that this was a reckless action. The inquiry also heard from individuals suffering from long COVID, underscoring the enduring impact of the pandemic beyond the immediate death toll. Johnson defended his government's response, highlighting collective failure rather than personal errors. The inquiry's goal is to glean lessons rather than assign individual blame, but its findings could further dent Johnson's reputation.