Coronavirus: Number 10 to hold daily updates from today after calls for transparency

·4-min read

Boris Johnson or one of his senior ministers will hold daily news conferences starting today to update the public on the fight against coronavirus, Downing Street has said.

The prime minister is set to chair an emergency COBRA meeting before addressing the media over the pandemic on Monday, alongside chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty and chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance.

Number 10 adviser Dominic Cummings said a further announcement on coronavirus measures would be made.

The plans to hold daily televised briefings come after Mr Johnson received criticism over an apparent lack of transparency in the fight against COVID-19 - the prevalent strain of coronavirus.

The move came as the number of patients who have died in the UK after testing positive for the virus reached 35 on Sunday.

They included 59-year-old Nick Matthews from Bristol who is believed to be the youngest victim of coronavirus in the UK.

The PM or a "senior" minister will host each briefing and face scrutiny while being joined by a revolving cast of medical and scientific experts, Number 10 said.

A spokeswoman added: "The prime minister and this government are committed to keeping the public informed every step of the way about what we're doing to fight the spread of coronavirus, when we're doing it and why we're doing it.

"At all times, we will be led by the science to bring forward the right responses at the right time to this global pandemic."

Mr Johnson has faced criticism for ministers and advisers allegedly briefing selected journalists over plans to tackle the crisis.

Theresa May's former chief of staff Lord Barwell said on Sunday: "I cannot say this strongly enough: Ministers need to stop anonymously briefing journalists and start speaking directly to the public.

"Trust in government is going to be vital during the difficult months ahead and it is best fostered by transparency, not off-the-record briefing."

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to publish its modelling so a wider pool of experts can scrutinise the plans.

He told Sky News' Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme: "I just need to understand better why the government is taking a different approach, based on its science, from other countries and I think that's why it is so important that all the scientific modelling, for example, is published.

"If things have changed since the prime minister's press conference on Thursday, then the prime minister should be doing another press conference today and explaining why things have changed."

Mr Johnson's address on Monday is expected to come after he chairs the emergency COBRA meeting when further decisions could be taken on moves to stem the spread of the disease.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock suggested a decision could be made during the committee over whether to ban mass gatherings to aid the fight.

He told Sophy Ridge on Sunday that over-70s could be told "in the coming weeks" to stay at home for a period of up to four months to shield themselves from the virus.

He also said other severe measures could include police being handed powers to arrest people who are infected but who are not self-isolating.

Bars, restaurants and shops other than supermarkets and pharmacies could be told to shut, he added.

Jeremy Corbyn has accused the government of being "complacent" and "well behind the curve" in its handling of the coronavirus crisis.

The Labour leader said it was "strange" that ministers were giving advice on COVID-19 which was "different to that given in almost every other European country".

He added: "It seems to me that at every stage, the government just isn't on it and isn't fast enough."

Meanwhile, on Monday morning the PM will ask British manufacturers including the Unipart Group to support the production of essential medical equipment for the NHS.

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He will also speak with all the G7 leaders including US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss a co-ordinated global response to the pandemic.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "Preparing for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a national priority and we're calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help the country tackle this national crisis.

"We need to step up production of vital equipment such as ventilators so that we can all help the most vulnerable, and we need businesses to come to us and help in this national effort."

In other developments:

Sky News will broadcast a special programme at 6pm, with experts answering your questions #AskSkyNews at 12.30pm