'We're not going to be popularist': UK defends coronavirus response as other countries ramp up measures

Transport secretary Grant Shapps defended the UK's response to coronavirus. (PA Images via Getty Images)

A government minister has insisted the response to the coronavirus pandemic will not be driven by a “popularist” approach that sees it copying other countries’ extreme measures.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps claimed the restrictions introduced in nations such as France, Germany and Italy would not work in the UK.

The British government has been criticised by many in the scientific community for not closing schools and for so far refusing to ban mass gatherings.

A total of 35 Britons who tested positive for Covid-19, the disease caused by coronavirus, have died. Of the 40,279 people who have been tested in the UK, 1,372 were confirmed as positive.

Countries across Europe have closed their borders and shut down schools, shops, bars and restaurants as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.

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But Shapps insisted the UK government’s approach was driven by science and evidence.

"I don't think that necessarily means that our approach is markedly different,” he told BBC Breakfast on Monday.

“But I do think it means that we deploy each of these different measures at the appropriate time."

"We're not doing the things that sometimes perhaps are happening elsewhere, because it seems like a popularist [sic] thing to do.

“We want to know that the scientists back it, and that is, I suppose, the hallmark of this country's response."

He told Sky News the UK’s outbreak is behind that of other European countries.

"The UK has probably just been at a slightly different stage – compared with places like Italy but also a little behind where France and Germany are.

Read more: Britons 'face £1,000 fine if they refuse coronavirus self-isolation'

"It's not that we're not going to get there, but of course our responses are timed in a different way, unique to the particular stage of this that we're in in the UK."

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In Italy, there have been more than 24,000 coronavirus cases, according to John Hopkins University, with more than 1,800 deaths and more than 2,300 recoveries.

In Spain, more than 290 people have died from more than 7,800 cases, with more than 500 recoveries.

France and Germany have each had more than 5,400 cases. In France, 127 people have died.

Shapps described the spread of coronavirus as an "international crisis".

Read more: Video explains government's plan to stop coronavirus overwhelming NHS

He told BBC Breakfast: "This is no doubt at all, there is no sugar-coating this. This is obviously an international crisis and we need a great national effort to help everybody in society get through this.

Shoppers form long queues ahead of the opening of a Costco wholesale store in Chingford, London, on Monday. (Getty Images)

“But we will get through it. We will beat this virus, but there is no shortcut unfortunately to getting there."

Following news that people aged 70 and over could be asked to self-isolate for up to four months, Shapps said he had been helping his own parents, who are both in their 80s, to set up online shopping accounts for grocery deliveries.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that those over 70 will be asked to self-isolate "as and when the moment is right" – but that they would still be able to go outside and "walk the dog".