Bereaved families have accused Boris Johnson of pouring “salt into the wounds” by saying he didn’t know the drinks in the Downing Street garden amounted to a party.
The prime minister has apologised after admitting he attended the event in May 2020, but told parliament he believed it was a work event.
Others who stuck to the rules – despite the death of family or the effect on their livelihoods – have told Sky News the apology was “insulting”, “hypocritical” and intended to “buy time”.
The event encouraged staff to bring their own alcohol for “socially distanced drinks”. However, it was held despite strict limits on meeting others – even outside.
Hannah Brady, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, called the prime minister a “walking public health hazard”.
She said: “Every time he lies to us, he pours more salt into the wounds of those who have already lost so much to this pandemic, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s incapable of telling the truth and he needs to go.”
Mr Johnson told MPs he acknowledged the public “rage” over the party and admitted he “should have sent everyone back inside”.
At the time, Britons had only just been allowed to meet one person from another household outside. Mixing with multiple households was still banned.
Nina Ambrose, a care home volunteer from Essex who lost her father to COVID, told Sky News that Mr Johnson’s words didn’t feel like an apology and that he appeared to be “biding time”.
“He never owns or denies it – you either did it or you didn’t do it – just let us know,” she said.
“We’re not talking about something that’s gone wrong here casually, we’re talking about thousand upon thousands of deaths – and people stuck to rules.”
Ms Ambrose said if the inquiry into the parties finds the prime minister at fault then “some serious action needs to be taken”.
Beauty salon owner Katie Pickett, who nearly saw her business go under and had to furlough staff, said she was “pleased” Mr Johnson had apologised but he “still can’t justify the damage he’s already done”.
She said: “I feel like he just kept swerving the answer, and also it’s so hypocritical to say he thought he was within the rules. I mean what rules were there that people were having work events anyway?”
Ms Pickett, from Gillingham, added: “I just feel like he’s trying to buy himself some time by constantly referring to the inquiry and all is forgotten and we’re on to the next big news story.”
Londoner Jean Adamson, who also lost her father to COVID in April 2020, was similarly unimpressed.
She said she hadn’t taken “any comfort or solace” from Mr Johnson’s words and accused him of trying to “save his own hide”.
“The fact that he said he didn’t know it was a party – he believed it to be a work event – these lies he continues to peddle, it’s just so offensive, so insulting,” she said.
Many have been posting on social media about being unable to meet loved ones in the early days of the pandemic.
Amos Waldman told Sky News the latest party revelation felt like being hit repeatedly by a “rebounding punchbag”.
He said he was unable to see his sick grandmother, who died in a care home in April 2020, and that the family couldn’t grieve properly as they couldn’t hold an in-person funeral.
“We didn’t have video calls – there were no facilities for those calls to take place [in the care home]. We spoke to her only by telephone and had extremely harrowing calls with her, given she’d become delirious,” he said.
“We had a funeral via Zoom; we had a short – for about an hour – memorial, which took place again via Zoom, where family members spoke about my grandmother.”
Mr Walman added: “It’s hard to take away the pain and suffering we’ve had since all this information has been leaked bit by bit.
“It’s been like a rebounding punch bag that keeps hitting you in the face. I’m just not sure whether that hurt can be taken away by a sentence given the way he’s [the PM] conducted himself….”