The Prime Minister was asked to address the comments made by his former chancellor during a visit to South West London Elective Orthopaedic Centre in Surrey.
Tory leadership hopeful Rishi Sunak recently used a Spectator interview to claim independent experts were given too much power during the pandemic, with concerns about the economic and social impacts of lockdowns not properly considered.
Liz Truss, the frontrunner to become the next prime minister, during the penultimate leadership contest hustings in Norwich said she also questioned the Government’s “draconian” lockdown policy during the pandemic.
Speaking to broadcasters at the orthopaedic centre , Mr Johnson said if the Government did not lock the country down during the pandemic, “the delays for cardiac, the delays for hips, the delays for cancer treatment, or the other procedures that people care about” would have been “even greater”.
He added: “I’m just giving you my view, which is that the… about the decision to try to stop the spread of Covid, and with all the things that we did.
“Of course, the inquiry will have to look at those decisions. I’m very confident that they were the right ones. I just want to remind people of the logic because I think there’s a bit of… it all gets turned upside down.
“People say, ‘Oh, well, it was because of the lockdowns that people’s health was impaired’. Actually, the purpose of using those methods, imperfect though they were, to restrict the spread of Covid, was to reduce the huge numbers in the NHS.
“Forty-thousand people at one stage occupying beds in the NHS because of Covid, and therefore, to reduce the numbers of patients with other complaints, other sicknesses, other needs, who were displaced by Covid, and are now coming back into the NHS. That was the purpose of what we were doing.”
In his interview, Mr Sunak, one of the key players in Government during the crisis, said “if you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed” and claimed the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) edited its minutes to hide dissenting opinions.
Sage members rejected Mr Sunak’s characterisation of the situation, while former Number 10 insiders described his comments as “simply wrong”.
Prof Graham Medley, a Sage member, said: “Government have the power, so if one member of Cabinet thinks that scientific advice was too ‘empowered’ then it is a criticism of their colleagues rather than the scientists.
“The Sage meetings were about the science, not the policy options, and the minutes reflect the scientific consensus at the time.”
Dominic Cummings, Mr Johnson’s former senior adviser, said Mr Sunak’s comments were “dangerous rubbish” and pinned the blame unfairly on Mr Johnson and others.