The government has denied reports Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak after he was criticised for his slow response to the pandemic.
A number of opportunities had been missed by Number 10 in January, February and March to try and lessen the impact of the gathering crisis, according to a report published by The Sunday Times.
In the article, a senior adviser from Downing Street said that in the early days of the outbreak in the UK, Johnson “didn’t chair any meetings, liked his country breaks and didn’t work weekends”.
The prime minister also reportedly went away to on a retreat to Chevening House in Kent where he spent two weeks over half-term with his pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds.
This shocking report points to unforgivable levels of negligence.
NHS workers and those who have lost loved ones will deserve answers to the damning questions raised in this article. #Covid19https://t.co/EUptkXPL2O
— Sarah Owen MP (@SarahOwen_) April 18, 2020
The article sparked a fierce social media backlash over the weekend, with figures from across the political spectrum criticising Johnson’s approach.
Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The public deserve clear answers as to why the prime minister skipped five vital vital Cobra meetings.
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“We knew in February how serious this virus was. Yet today our NHS and care staff still lacking adequate PPE, testing is not at levels needed and hospitals delivered wrong ventilators.”
Labour MP Charlotte Nichols tweeted: “Some absolutely jaw dropping revelations in The Times about the government's (mis)handling of the pandemic. I could weep.”
The public deserve clear answers as to why the Prime Minister skipped 5 vital vital cobra meetings. We knew in February how serious this virus was.
Yet today our NHS & care staff still lacking adequate PPE, testing is not at levels needed & hospitals delivered wrong ventilators. pic.twitter.com/ytFVOxvBzu
— Jonathan Ashworth (@JonAshworth) April 19, 2020
While fellow Labour MP Charlotte Owen said: “This shocking report points to unforgivable levels of negligence.
“NHS workers and those who have lost loved ones will deserve answers to the damning questions raised in this article.”
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove defended the prime minister on Sunday, however, saying that some aspects of the newspaper story were “off beam”.
“The idea that the prime minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque,” he said.
"The prime minister took all the major decisions.
"Nobody can say that the prime minister wasn't throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus. His leadership has been clear.
"He's been inspirational at times."
A Downing Street spokesman also released a statement saying: “The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”