London, Thanasis Gavos,

The image of a prime minister who had great difficulty understanding the scientific data presented to him regarding the estimates of the impact of the coronavirus was given by his scientific advisor Boris Johnson in his testimony before the public inquiry into the handling of the pandemic in Britain.

The former chief scientific adviser to the British government, Sir Patrick Vallance, said, among other things, that the then prime minister looked “clearly confused” and seemed not to have understood data that scientists had analyzed for him just a few hours earlier.

In Sir Patrick’s evidence to the committee led by barrister Baroness Hallett, several extracts from his own diary kept during the pandemic were also read, which also suggested a sense of disbelief and indignation at the difficulty with which Boris Johnson was collecting the scientific data.

“We’re really struggling to get him to understand the graphs,” one quote said, with Professor Vallance adding that he “had to repeat some things a lot”.

He also describes a Boris Johnson who at times seemed “disintegrated” by the magnitude of the challenge and who had transitions from optimism to pessimism regarding the ability to deal with the pandemic.

However, Sir Patrick commented that it is not easy for all leaders to immediately understand the science.

He added that his role was purely advisory and that he understood that sometimes politicians had to take into account other parameters before making decisions in the midst of a pandemic.

However, as his notes showed, he considered Boris Johnson “weak and indecisive” in reference to the need for a lockdown decision. He had added that the then prime minister was “very influenced by the (right-wing) press”.

Patrick Vallance also criticized then Finance Minister and current Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to call on people to start eating out to boost the economy while the pandemic was still over. “It is hard to see how it would not have an impact on the transmission of the virus,” he had commented in his diary. He also revealed that the government’s scientific advisors had not been informed in advance about this measure.

He also referred to “astounding” incidents where it was clear Downing Street HQ had not considered the scientific advice given, such as the two-metre social distancing rule.

The current stage of the investigation concerns the actions of the Johnson administration. In the previous months, the degree of preparedness of the competent authorities was examined.

In the next stages the research will look at the impact of the pandemic on the health system, movements regarding vaccines, the procurement of materials by the government and the impact on the social care sector. More research funds will be added in the coming months.

The mission of the investigation is not to assign criminal responsibilities but to draw conclusions in order to avoid the same mistakes in a future pandemic.

The process will be completed in 2026, but there will be interim reports with conclusions and recommendations.