'Boris needs to pull his finger out': Labour discontent grows at coronavirus strategy

James Morris
·Senior news reporter, Yahoo News UK
·3-min read
LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 12: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds a news conference addressing the government's response to the coronavirus outbreak on March 12, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Simon Dawson-WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Boris Johnson at Thursday's Downing Street press conference on coronavirus. (Simon Dawson/pool)

Senior Labour MPs have criticised Boris Johnson’s coronavirus approach in signs of growing discontent at the government’s strategy.

Angela Rayner, the favourite to become the party’s new deputy leader next month, said the prime minister “needs to pull his finger out”.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said there are “legitimate questions” as to why the UK has taken a different approach to countries such as Ireland and Spain, which has cancelled sporting events and mass gatherings.

On Thursday, Johnson officially moved the UK into the “delay” phase of its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

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However, the government – on the advice of top medical scientists – has stopped short of banning large-scale events and closing schools.

GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - FEBRUARY 15: Angela Rayner speaking at the Labour Party deputy leadership hustings on the stage at SEC in Glasgow on February 15, 2020 in Glasgow, Scotland. Ian Murray, Angela Rayner, Richard Burgon, Rosena Allin-Khan and Dawn Butler are vying to become Labour’s deputy leader following the departure of Tom Watson, who stood down in November last year. (Photo by Robert Perry/Getty Images)
A file image of Angela Rayner. (Robert Perry/Getty Images)

Rayner posted on Twitter: “I have genuine, serious concerns regarding our government’s strategy here as it seems to be so different from other countries.

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“We should learn lessons from Italy [which is under a national quarantine] and those that have contained the spread. Boris Johnson needs to pull his finger out.”

Ashworth had earlier told the BBC: “I want the government to move into the ‘explain’ stage.

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“Many members of the public are asking legitimate questions as to why we appear to be taking a different approach to Ireland, Spain, Denmark. Many members of the public are asking why big events are not being cancelled.”

He went on: “OK, if you are following the science, publish more of that science so it can be stress-tested by other experts in the field, because we have to maintain public confidence in this approach.”

Coronavirus update: What you need to know about the 'delay phase'

Johnson said at Thursday’s Downing Street press conference that the most “draconian” measures must not be triggered too early.

He was backed by Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, who said it was not the right moment within the pandemic to introduce social distancing measures.

Read more: Wife of self-isolating Tory MP accuses minister with coronavirus of 'jeopardising' her family

Nonetheless, on Friday, all elite football matches in Britain were postponed until at least 3 April. The London Marathon, originally scheduled for 26 April, was also delayed until October.

The Department of Health said there had been 798 confirmed coronavirus cases in the UK as of 9am on Friday. This was a jump of 208 in the previous 24 hours.

Coronavirus cases in the UK (PA)
Coronavirus cases in the UK. (PA)