The British government has hit back at newspaper reports that Boris Johnson and his administration were far too slow to respond to the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
Downing Street has accused the Sunday Times newspaper of “falsehoods” and “errors” after it published comments from a government source saying the administration “missed the boat on testing and PPE” (personal protective equipment).
“This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.
“… The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”
Senior minister Michael Gove described the article as “off beam” earlier on Sunday.
Gove confirmed the Sunday Times report that Johnson missed five meetings of the key government crisis committee Cobra in the run-up to the pandemic, but insisted this was not unusual.
That stance was echoed by the government spokesman.
“It is entirely normal and proper for Cobra to be chaired by the relevant secretary of state,” he said.
“At this point the World Health Organisation had not declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, and only did so only on January 30.
“Indeed, they chose not to declare a PHEIC the day after the Cobra meeting.”
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News there were “serious questions” as to why Johnson skipped five Cobra meetings throughout February, “when the whole world could see how serious this was becoming”.
“And we know that serious mistakes have been made, we know that our frontline NHS (National Health Service) staff don’t have the PPE, that they’ve been told this weekend that they won’t necessarily have the gowns which are vital to keep them safe.
“We know that our testing capacity is not at the level that is needed.”
More than 16,000 people have died in Britain – the fifth-highest national death toll of the pandemic.
The government has faced criticism over shortages of PPE and what some say was the late timing of social distancing restrictions.