10 times Boris Johnson’s pandemic decisions backfired

Since the Covid pandemic took hold at the beginning of last year, the government faced a crisis that it had never dealt with before.

Governments across the world were challenged with how to control the virus and prevent as many deaths as possible.

Boris Johnson has previously said his Government “did everything we could” in the fight against coronavirus.

But with over 129,000 deaths from Covid as of today, the prime minister has been criticised for his handling of the pandemic but still plans to go head and cut back on the majority of restrictions in England from 19th July for the so-called ‘Freedom Day’.

We’re taking a look at the different decisions Johnson has made throughout the course of the pandemic that have backfired spectacularly.

And believe us... there’s a LOT of them.

Keeping the country open amid first Covid cases

Four days after the first confirmed cases in the UK on 3rd February, Johnson made it abundantly clear that he didn’t want to shut down the economy.

He said: “There is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage.

“Then, at that moment, humanity needs some government somewhere that is willing at least to make the case powerfully for freedom of exchange.”

Words that would certainly come back to haunt him.

Missing Cobra meetings

Back in 2016, a “cross-government exercise to test the UK’s response to a serious influenza pandemic” found that the UK was “not sufficient” in its preparation for a serious flu outbreak.

Rather than bulking up our pandemic defences in the first two months of 2020, Johnson decided then was the perfect time to miss five meetings of the Government’s Cobra emergency committee.

Instead, Johnson was staying at Chequers sorting out his matrimonial affairs.

His divorce was finalised on 18th February, and just under two weeks later on 29th February, Mr Johnson and Carrie Symonds announced they were engaged and expecting their first child together.

Shaking hands despite new guidelines

Johnson during his No.10 press conference on March 3Getty Images

On 3rd March, Johnson told a Downing Street press conference how he “shook hands with everybody” at a hospital visit in Kettering, Northamptonshire.

“I was at a hospital the other night where I think a few there were actually coronavirus patients. And I shook hands with everybody, you’ll be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.”

His comments came on the same day government advisors warned people to stop shaking hands - talk about a contradiction.

The Independent Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), a subcommittee of the SAGE scientific advisory committee said:

“There was agreement that Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene.

“Promoting a replacement greeting or encouraging others to politely decline a proffered hand-shake may have benefit.”

Going into lockdown too late

Atletico Madrid fans celebrate victory after the UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match between Liverpool FC and Atletico Madrid at Anfield on March 11, 2020Getty Images

The Prime Minister announced people were to stop all unnecessary social contact on 16th March - before lockdown legally took effect a week later on 23rd March.

His decision enabled the virus to spread even more, due to failing to cancel earlier events such as The Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool vs Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

The slow reaction also meant that pubs remained open for a week even though Johnson ordered people not to go there.

Failing to protect care homes

Over a third of Covid deaths have been from care homes - with elderly and vulnerable people being more at risk.

The reason the virus was able to take hold in care homes was due to elderly people being discharged from hospitals into care homes in order to free up beds. But none of them were tested before they left.

Even up until 13th March, care workers were not required to wear a face mask.

Delayed Test and Trace app

An alert on the official NHS Covid-19 Test and Trace app Getty Images

It was supposed to be a “world-beating” app that would help lower case numbers - along with a leading contact tracing app.

But instead, it was yet another example of the Government’s delays.

It started out as an NHS app but after an initial trial in the Isle of Wight in May 2020 but the app was scrapped due to technical problems.

The NHSX version was only able to register about just 4 per cent of iPhones.

Then, the government announcing it would work with Apple and Google instead, Digital Health reported.

On 20th May, Johnson said: “We have growing confidence that we will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating, and yes, it will be in place by 1st June.”

However, the new app wasn’t up and running until September - costing £35 million to set up.

U-turn on face coverings

It is now a legal requirement to wear masks on public transport - but that wasn’t the original positionGetty Images

At the beginning of the pandemic, face masks were not advised by the government - in fact they said there was little benefit to wearing them.

But Johnson later conceded in April that faces masks were “useful.”

He said: “I do think face coverings will be useful, both for epidemiological reasons, but also for giving people confidence that they can go back to work.”

Face coverings were then made a law requirement for travelling on public transport and inside public spaces such as shops and supermarkets.

Supporting Dominic Cummings amid Barnard Castle scandal

Dominic Cummings answering questions from media in Downing Street rose gardenGetty Images

It became the political meme of the year and led to nationwide outrage.

Dominic Cummings’ trip to Barnard Castle that broke lockdown restrictions hit the headlines, and with growing pressure for Johnson to fire his advisor.

Ultimately it led to a media showdown in the Downing Street rose garden, where Cummings explained how he drove to the monument to “test his eyesight.”

Throughout all of this, Johnson continued to support him which led to the public becoming less obedient in terms of following government rules.

After all of the drama, their friendship would soon turn sour over a communications row that led to Cummings getting the boot later that year in November.

Eat Out To Help Out

A server carries food past a sign promoting the British Government's "Eat out to Help out" COVID-19 scheme to get consumers spending again, outside a restaurant in Manchester, northwest England on August 3, 2020AFP via Getty Images

It was marketed as a boost to the economy and who doesn’t love discounted food?

The government appeared to understand how much us Brits love a bargain as their “Eat Out To Help Out Scheme” caused the public to swarm to restaurants.

Although it boosted the economy as intended, the government were not prepared for the rise in case rates due to the number of us dinning out.

One study from Warwick University estimated infections roughly went up by between 8 and 17 per cent.

Not sacking Matt Hancock over breaking rules for an affair

Health Secretary Matt Hancock leaves 10 Downing Street with aide Gina ColadangeloGetty Images

Most recently, the Prime Minister has come under fire for his decision not to sack Health Secretary at the time, Matt Hancock over breaching Covid rules.

Hancock was caught kissing Government aide Gina Coladangelo on a security camera in his office, The Sun reported.

The footage was apparently from 6th May, when indoor social gatherings from different households were banned, and social distancing was still in place.

Despite this, a spokesperson for the Prime Minister said:

“The Health Secretary set out that he accepted he had breached the social distancing guidelines and he has apologised for that.

“The Prime Minister has accepted the Health Secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”

You would’ve thought Johnson had learned his lesson from the Cummings-Barnard Castle fiasco - but apparently not.

Eventually, Hancock gave into public pressure and resigned from his position.

But, Johnson later implied that he did sack Hancock.

“I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic,” he said.

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