Former prime minister Boris Johnson fought back tears as he recounted his time in hospital with Covid-19.
He also rejected claims that he “didn’t care” about the “suffering that was being inflicted on the country” during the time of the crisis.
Mr Johnson was questioned about rulebreaking at Downing Street during the pandemic, which has since been dubbed partygate.
He was shown a WhatsApp exchange between himself and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, which inquiry counsel Hugo Keith said was sent “around that time of the revelation of the partying in Downing Street”.
In the message, from December 17 2021, Mr Johnson said: “In retrospect we all should have told people – above all Lee Cain – to think about their behaviour in number ten and how it would look. But now we must smash on.”
Mr Keith put to Mr Johnson “you knew how it would look but you didn’t care that much”.
However, Mr Johnson rejected this, saying: “I did care. To say that I didn’t care about what was happening generally, is the complete opposite of the truth.
“And yes, I think that we could have done more in Number 10 to insist that people thought about the way their behaviour would be perceived by others.
“I made this point repeatedly to the various inquiries that have been held already into this matter.
“We should have thought about what it would look like to have people out in the garden when other people were not allowed in the garden – even though the garden was being used as a place of work.”
He also claimed that the UK Covid-19 Inquiry has “dwelt particularly on WhatsApp exchanges and various things I’m supposed to have said which indicate that I didn’t care”.
Becoming emotional, Mr Johnson said: “I did care and I continue to get passionate about it. And I haven’t talked about this before in public.
“It goes to what you were saying earlier about elderly people and what you claim is my indifference to the pandemic.
“When I went into intensive care, I saw around me a lot of people who were not actually elderly. In fact, they were middle aged men and they were quite like me.
“And some of us were going to make it and some of us weren’t.”
Mr Johnson was admitted to hospital with Covid-19 in early April 2020.
He told the inquiry: “What I’m trying to tell you in a nutshell – and the NHS thank God did an amazing job and helped me survive – but I knew from that experience what appalling disease this is.
“I had absolutely no personal doubt about that, from March onwards. To say that I didn’t care about the suffering that was being inflicted on the country is simply not right.”