We knew Boris Johnson was incompetent and a liar, but he was apparently heartless too.

According to a note made in March 2020 by Johnson’s private secretary for public services, the former Prime Minister questioned why the economy was being damaged “for people who will die soon anyway”.

In August 2020, Mr Johnson was “obsessed with older people accepting their fate and letting the young get on with life and the economy going”, wrote chief scientific officer Sir Patrick Vallance.

“Nature’s way of dealing with older people,” was how the former Prime Minister put it to Vallance, describing the view of some Tory MPs and indicating he agreed with them.

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Mr Johnson, you will be aware, is not far off being an old person himself and had the best medical care the NHS could provide when he fell ill with Covid in April 2020.

He is yet to respond to these reports of his words, but what strikes you about this week’s testimony is the apparent lack of humanity. While some senior Tories were seemingly talking about the dying elderly with no more compassion than they would seagulls in a bird flu epidemic, out in the real world the premature death of elderly people was tearing the heart out of family after family.

This is what one grieving daughter, Brenda Doherty of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, had to say about Mr Johnson this week: “He clearly didn’t see people like my mum as human beings, and thousands others died unnecessarily after the same mistakes were repeated because of Johnson’s callous and brutal attitude.

“I’d do anything to spend another day with my mum, and now we know that we might have had years and years together if only the country had a more humane prime minister when the pandemic struck.”

That is the nub of it: that just because someone is deemed “old” according to some vague and subjective criteria, it does not diminish the incalculable importance they have to their loved ones.

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The idea that elderly people “will die soon anyway” so “let them get it”, will strike most people as obscene. What if that had been my mother, my father, my uncle, we inevitably ask ourselves. Or: what if it had been me?

To have deliberately dismantled measures intended to protect older people from the virus, so that they caught Covid and died at 80 when they might otherwise have survived to 85 or 90 or 95, would have been unconscionable.

How many other vulnerable people in younger age groups would also have died? The support of the public for restrictive measures to protect the elderly and other vulnerable people appears to have been understood by Mr Johnson – he just seemed to dissent from that approach.

How did we reach this point, where the Prime Minister could have discussed millions of vulnerable British citizens “accepting their fate”?

The value of our loved ones cannot be itemised on a balance sheet. Love, support, advice, companionship, anchoring one’s family well into old age: these are priceless economic intangibles.

But you might at least have expected Mr Johnson to grasp the hard economic value older people represent. Did he? Did he appreciate their value in taxes paid or the grey pound spent (worth many billions), or understand the vast amount of unpaid work elderly people do? I suppose it’s easy to overlook this if you have a nanny and billionaire mates, but grandparents are critical to the ability of millions of people to work. Without grandparents providing unpaid childcare, many people would be forced to leave work or reduce their hours.

Many older people are also carers. Research by Age UK in 2019 found that the over-80s save the government £23bn a year through unpaid care of sick or disabled partners or children. The Scottish Covid Inquiry this week heard distressing evidence of how carers of loved ones with dementia, many of them elderly themselves, were left “entirely on their own" when lockdown came.

Older people are the engines of voluntary organisations, running playgroups, charity shops, food banks, community gardens and countless other organisations. They are also an important part of the paid workforce. Did those who advocated the elderly be left exposed to the virus not realise any of this? Or did they just not care?

Of course there are costs associated with getting older. Demands on the NHS are increasing because of an elderly population living longer with more complex needs. Social care costs are rising too. But to most of us these are costs well worth paying to provide for the loved ones who have provided for us.

The idea persists in some quarters that the Covid lockdown was all about prioritising older people’s wellbeing over the young. But was it really?

That view is not shared by some of those who had elderly relatives in care homes and nursing homes at the time. They saw their loved ones effectively imprisoned behind care home windows, disoriented and confused, with huge impacts on their quality of life.

Some were distressed at the use of “do not resuscitate” notices. We will in due course hear about the decisions that were made in the early part of the pandemic to protect elderly people in care homes. We will also hear about how the virus tore through home after home. The inquiry will then decide whether the wellbeing of elderly people was really prioritised as much or as effectively as it should have been.

Had protections been lifted before the vaccine roll-out, the virus would have surged. We can only guess at how many beloved grandparents, elderly aunts, uncles and friends who are still among us now, would instead be among the legions of yearned-for dead.

Boris Johnson’s attitude towards the elderly as reported at the Covid inquiry is as troubling as it is short-sighted and wrong, but it was the Prime Minister in the end who proved to be expendable. The elderly victims of Covid-19 never were.