Boris Johnson's former adviser Dominic Cummings launched new attacks on the British Prime Minister on Tuesday, accusing him of taking coronavirus lightly and revealing he held conversations about ousting him.
In a BBC interview airing on Tuesday, the mastermind of Johnson's anti-EU Brexit campaign said his former boss "put his own political interests ahead of people's lives".
Cummings resigned as chief Downing Street adviser in November after an internal power struggle. In the latest of a series of attacks on the government, he shared WhatsApp messages apparently from Johnson.
In one message shown by Cummings to the BBC, the prime minister allegedly wrote in October that most people were dying from the virus at a ripe old age.
"The median age is 82-81 for men 85 for women. That is above life expectancy. So get Covid and Live longer," Johnson was said to have written in the text message.
The prime minister also apparently downplayed the pandemic's impact on the National Health Service (NHS), despite receiving intensive care treatment for Covid last spring himself.
"I no longer buy all this nhs overwhelmed stuff. Folks I think we may need to recalibrate," the WhatsApp message from October 15 says, two weeks before Johnson did in fact announce a second lockdown.
- 'Difficult decisions' -
Cummings summarised Johnson's attitude at the time as: "This is terrible but the people dying are essentially all over 80 and we can't kill the economy just because of people dying over 80."
Asked if Cummings' recollection was correct, Johnson's spokesman flatly responded "no", and insisted that he had been "guided by the best scientific advice" throughout the pandemic.
Business minister Paul Scully told BBC radio: "The prime minister had some really difficult decisions to make.
"We want to protect people, we want to keep people safe... but that has to be balanced with people's livelihoods."
Johnson has faced stinging criticism for vacillating at various stages of the health crisis, with the UK's death toll soaring to the worst in Europe before a successful vaccine rollout.
On Monday he controversially opted to go ahead with the relaxation of almost all virus restrictions in England, despite the number of cases growing steeply in recent weeks.
- 'Insane' royal plan -
Cummings also claimed that at the start of the pandemic in March 2020, he had to persuade Johnson not to continue meeting Queen Elizabeth II in person every week.
He claimed the prime minister said on March 18: "Sod this. I'm going to go and see her."
Johnson changed his mind after Cummings said he told him that some Downing Street staff were already infected, and that risking the life of the monarch, then aged 94, was "completely insane".
The prime minister's spokesman told reporters: "This didn't happen and we've been clear about that."
Buckingham Palace declined to comment.
The prime minister repeatedly condemned the first lockdown from March 2020 as a "disaster", Cummings said.
The UK government lifted many virus restrictions over the summer of 2020 including reopening non-essential shops, and encouraged people to "eat out to help out" at restaurants.
But as cases and hospitalisations soared after the summer, a new lockdown in England entered into force on October 31 -- more than a month after government scientists began pressing for one.
Cummings, who became a hate figure for much of the public when he took a family road trip during lockdown, revealed that he held talks about potentially usurping Johnson shortly after the December 2019 election victory, as the influence of the prime minister's partner Carrie grew.
"Before even mid-January we were having meetings in Number 10 saying it's clear that Carrie wants rid of all of us," he said, according to extracts released by the BBC.
"At that point we were already saying by the summer either we'll all have gone from here or we'll be in the process of trying to get rid of him."