Boris Johnson 'ignored advice on shaking hands' at start of pandemic

Boris Johnson 'ignored advice on shaking hands' at start of pandemic

March 16, 2021

Boris Johnson ‘suggested the UK should “ignore” coronavirus at the start of pandemic’ and ‘disregarded advice on not shaking hands’

  • New account of early days of Covid claims PM ignored shaking hands advice
  • Claims there was a ‘genuine argument’ over whether to pursue herd immunity
  • Said to have been talk of ‘chicken pox parties’ for healthy people to spread Covid

Boris Johnson suggested the UK should ‘ignore’ coronavirus when it was spreading in China at the start of last year, a bombshell account of the Government’s handling of the pandemic has claimed.

The Prime Minister was said to have been wary of an overreaction to the disease, according to a behind-the-scenes report by the BBC. 

The report, based on conversations with a raft of senior figures, also claimed that Mr Johnson ignored advice on not shaking hands in the early stages of the pandemic. 

It claimed Mr Johnson had been prepared by aides to tell the nation to stop shaking hands at a briefing on March 3 last year. 

The PM was said to have been prepared to answer the question, should it have been asked by a journalist, but when the moment came he said the opposite. 

He said at the time: ‘I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were actually a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody and I continue to shake hands.’  

Boris Johnson, pictured during a visit to the National Express depot in Coventry yesterday, reportedly ignored advice on not shaking hands at the start of the pandemic 

A Downing Street spokesman said in response to the handshaking claim: ‘The Prime Minister was very clear at the time he was taking a number of precautionary steps, including frequently washing his hands. 

‘Once the social distancing advice changed, the Prime Minister’s approach changed.’

The BBC report paints a picture of a complacent Government in the early stages of the pandemic.

One source said that at the end of January when the crisis was in its nascent stages there was a ‘lack of concern and energy’ and ‘the general view was it is just hysteria’.

Meanwhile, Mr Johnson is said to have been heard saying ‘the best thing would be to ignore it’ amid fears of an overreaction.   

The early stages of the pandemic saw a row break out over whether the Government had considered adopting a strategy of herd immunity. 

Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, said on March 13 that the ‘aim’ was to ‘try and reduce the peak – not suppress it completely, also because most people get a mild illness, to build up some degree of herd immunity whilst protecting the most vulnerable’. 

His comments sparked a furious backlash as the Government repeatedly denied herd immunity was ever official policy. 

But a senior figure told the BBC that ‘there was a genuine argument in government, which everyone has subsequently denied’ over whether to go for a hard lockdown or to protect the most vulnerable and target some degree of herd immunity. 

Sources claimed there was a ‘genuine argument’ in Whitehall over whether to pursue a herd immunity strategy or to go for a hard lockdown. Mr Johnson is pictured alongside Sir Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty on March 16, 2020

The broadcaster reported there was even talk in Whitehall of so-called ‘chicken pox parties’ so healthy people could meet to spread the disease. 

The Government has faced criticism for failing to impose the first lockdown sooner than March 23 last year.   

But the report suggested there was a sense of disbelief in some quarters of the Government at the time as ministers and officials scrambled to understand the disease.

One minister said they ‘couldn’t believe’ some of the measures they had to announce while one official recounted googling: ‘Did they shut the schools during the War?’

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