Boris Johnson has been criticised over how the government communicates plans to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and faced calls for greater transparency.
The prime minister was under increased pressure to publish the data Downing Street was relying on to make decisions on how to counteract the spread of Covid-19.
There was criticism over how individual journalists and publications were learning government plans before they are announced to the wider public.
Johnson faced calls to increase press conferences to detail plans and face questioning as it emerged over-70s could be told “in the coming weeks” to stay at home for up to four months
In a televised interview on 15 March, health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the proposal as well as another move to give police powers to arrest sick citizens who are not self-isolating.
However, both proposals had already been learned by individual reporters while Hancock wrote an article on tackling the pandemic for the Telegraph, which initially published it online under a paywall.
Theresa May’s former chief of staff Lord Barwell said: “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.”
Some in the scientific community have criticised government plans not to quickly impose stringent restrictions to limit the disease’s spread.
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.
“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,” he told Sky’s Ridge On Sunday.
“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.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn challenged government actions in a letter to Johnson:
I've written to Boris Johnson calling for emergency support for people affected by the coronavirus epidemic, including rent deferrals and mortgage holidays, higher statutory sick pay from day one, and income protection for insecure, low-paid and self-employed workers. pic.twitter.com/7PDyZN6OiT
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) March 14, 2020
Several Labour MPs also challenged the government’s response:
South Korea has been testing 12,000 people per day for coronavirus – and numbers appear to be stabilising. The UK is testing nowhere near this, with many who phone 111 not offered a test. Boris Johnson must release his models and data so scientists can strutinize the strategy.
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) March 15, 2020
The government’s first duty is to make sure everyone is heathy, fed and can pay their bills.
It’s not to hand-out millions to big business exploiting this emergency.
— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) March 15, 2020
Keir Starmer called for a “daily press conference” over the virus to be hosted by the PM or a minister.
“I am deeply concerned that over the past 48 hours ministers have been failing in their responsibilities to provide consistent and transparent public health advice,” he said.
“To allow anonymous and speculative briefings to journalists about a significant step-change in the Government’s response to the outbreak is irresponsible.”
Lisa Nandy also accused the government of being in a “shambles” over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.
“This is causing serious concern out in the public. People just don’t know what to do for the best,” she told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.
“This is a public health crisis and so the public must have confidence in the strategy the government is following.”
Hancock said ministers will publish modelling over the pandemic “in the coming days” but said scientists had been “extremely busy” when pressed on the delay.
“Of course there’s a lively debate about what’s the best course of action. The scientific evidence is absolutely critical in underpinning our response,” he told Ridge.
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