UK leader denies saying 1000s of bodies better than lockdown

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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a farm as he campaigns on behalf of the Conservative Party for local elections, at Moreton farm near Wrexham, north Wales, Monday, April 26, 2021. (Paul Ellis/Pool Photo via AP)

LONDON – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson dismissed as “total rubbish” a press report which quoted him as allegedly saying he would rather see “bodies pile high in their thousands” than impose a third national lockdown on the country.

The Daily Mail claimed that Johnson made the comment during a heated discussion in late October, when his government imposed a second lockdown to combat a surge in coronavirus cases. A third lockdown was ordered in January as infections shot up again, driven by a new, more contagious variant of the virus.

The Daily Mail didn't cite a source for the claim, but there has been a spate of leaks from Johnson’s 10 Downing St. office, which are being investigated by government officials. Broadcasters BBC and ITV said they had also been told of the “bodies” remark.

Johnson said Monday that the allegation was “total, total rubbish.”

Britain has spent much of the last year under restrictions on business and daily life as it tried to contain a COVID-19 outbreak that has left more than 127,000 people dead, the highest toll in Europe. Restrictions are gradually being eased alongside a mass-vaccination campaign that has given at least one dose of vaccine to half the U.K. population.

Cabinet Minister Michael Gove said Johnson had treated decisions about lockdowns extremely seriously.

“This is a prime minister who was in hospital himself in intensive care" with the virus last year, Gove said. “The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible.”

The claim is the latest in a swirl of allegations of cronyism and ethical breaches against Johnson and his Conservative government that have been piling up ahead of local and regional elections next week.