A minister stressed on Tuesday that the Government was trying to “save both lives and livelihoods” during the Covid pandemic after Rishi Sunak was alleged to have taken a “just let them die” approach.
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott warned against “rushing to judgement” about claims made at the Covid Inquiry, stressing that many lessons needed to be learned from it.
Questioned about the claim about Mr Sunak, who was Chancellor at the time, she told Times Radio: “I wasn’t in the Treasury or indeed in the Government at that stage but as a backbencher I saw very clearly that the Government was trying to act to save both lives and livelihoods.”
The evidence session by Sir Chris, who became one of the most recognisable figures in the country during the pandemic, is expected to last for the whole of Tuesday and could even extend into Wednesday.
His appearance comes a day after former chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, a close colleague who frequently appeared alongside him at coronavirus-era press conferences, offered his insights into former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and ministers’ handling of the pandemic.
Diary entries by Sir Patrick have so far offered extraordinary insights into his view of Mr Johnson, Mr Sunak and the decisions taken by politicians as the crisis unfolded.
Sir Patrick, who was the government's chief scientific adviser during Covid, made a note in his diary on Oct. 25, 2020, about a meeting involving Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak.
The diary entry shown to the inquiry recorded how Dominic Cummings, Johnson's most senior adviser during the pandemic, had relayed to Sir Patrick what he said he had heard at the meeting.
He quoted Mr Cummings in his diary as saying: "Rishi thinks just let people die and that's okay. This all feels like a complete lack of leadership."
Some of Mr Cummings' claims about events in No10 have been questioned.
Lady Hallett’s inquiry heard on Monday that Mr Johnson was “bamboozled” by the graphs and data presented to him during the pandemic and was sometimes a “broken” man.
The inquiry heard how Mr Johnson sometimes struggled to retain scientific information, was “clutching at straws” and at one point queried whether Covid was spreading “because of the great libertarian nation we are”.
Mr Sunak’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme, an initiative launched in August 2020 to kickstart restaurants and eateries post-lockdown, also faced criticism again on Monday.
The inquiry has already heard that Sir Chris privately referred to it as “eat out to help out the virus”, and he is likely to face questions about the initiative later.
His former deputy, Sir Jonathan Van-Tam, will give evidence later in the week.