CORRECTION: This article originally stated that the virus had claimed the lives of more than 2 million people worldwide. It should have said that more than 2 million cases of Covid-19 had been confirmed globally. The article was updated accordingly at 19.30pm on 27 April.
Michael Gove has added to the government’s chaotic response to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
He confirmed Boris Johnson had not attended five meetings of the key government Cobra committee in the build-up to the coronavirus outbreak.
It followed an investigation in the Sunday Times in which a Whitehall source claimed the government “missed the boat on testing and PPE” (personal protective equipment) and “just watched” as the death toll mounted in Wuhan, China.
The wide-ranging report said that Johnson missed five meetings of the key Cobra committee in the run-up to the outbreak and stated a number of opportunities were missed by the government in January, February and March to try and lessen the impact of the gathering crisis.
There have been more than 2 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 worldwide, and the virus has claimed the lives of 15,464 people in hospitals in the UK, according to latest figures.
Gove told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge: “The idea that the Prime Minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque.”
The long-time ally of Johnson later told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show that “most Cobra meetings don’t have the prime minister attending them”.
But his comments received broad criticism from several MPs:
#Marr says hindsight is easy, but he’s missing point – ministers ignored scientific warnings & failed to act on them
Gove admits Government made mistakes – “There will be an opportunity at some point for us to look back & learn some profound lessons”
The time to learn is NOW
— Caroline Lucas (@CarolineLucas) April 19, 2020
Number 10 should urgently explain why Boris Johnson reportedly skipped five consecutive emergency Covid-19 Cobra meetings in February.
The government was too slow to introduce the lockdown, too slow at testing and too slow at getting PPE.https://t.co/RmDUs1Zulz
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) April 19, 2020
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth later argued Gove’s line that one or two aspects of the Sunday Times story were “off beam” is “possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history”.
Ashworth, told Ridge on Sunday: “There are serious questions as to why the prime minister skipped five Cobra meetings throughout February, when the whole world could see how serious this was becoming.
“And we know that serious mistakes have been made, we know that our front-line NHS staff don’t have the PPE, that they’ve been told this weekend that they won’t necessarily have the gowns which are vital to keep them safe.
“We know that our testing capacity is not at the level that is needed.
“We know that the ventilators that many hospitals have received are the wrong types of ventilators and there are big questions as to whether we went into this lockdown too slowly, and now we hear the prime minister missed five meetings at the start of this outbreak.
“It suggests that early on he was missing in action.”
Gove denied suggestions the government has drawn up plans for a three-tiered relaxation of lockdown measures. He poured cold water on suggestions a “traffic light” strategy is about to be brought in which would see some schools and businesses allowed to reopen in mid-May.
Gove told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We have stressed that the reporting in today’s newspapers that schools will reopen on May 11, that is not true, we have not made that decision.”
Gove said ministers do not want to “take steps too early” despite the rate of infection appearing “to be flattening”.
Yet, according to the Sunday Times article, Gove reportedly favours ending lockdown early:
Tim Shipman, the Sunday Times’ political editor, remains predictably well-informed about what Michael Gove says in secret meetings. Gove’s now ‘chairing discussions on the long-term options’ and he’s pro-death. ‘Run this hot’ means lifting lockdown while #COVID19 still deadly. pic.twitter.com/IAtWpwc45d
— Tim Walker (@ThatTimWalker) April 19, 2020
“I’ve come to the view that we need to run this hot”
“Run this hot” means lifting lockdown while Coronavirus still deadly.
Words of Michael Gove, according to Tim Shipman, Sunday Times’ political editor.
Our leaders hate us
— Double Down News (@DoubleDownNews) April 19, 2020
Education secretary Gavin Williamson also denied a decision had been made to reopen schools.
As other commentators noted, Gove refused to answer some questions:
Michael Gove wouldn't say this morning if UK sent 220,000-odd items of PPE to China. This one is quite simple – it is on record from Downing Street at the time and the figure we had was actually 650,000, we wrote a story about it. https://t.co/LQcRkC2ZSS
— Dan Bloom (@danbloom1) April 19, 2020
Gove reiterated the government will meet its 100,000 daily testing target by the end of the month, despite having come close to doing so.
Jeremy Farrar, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he is “optimistic” about finding a vaccine for Covid-19;
But Professor Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford University, who is leading a team developing a Covid-19 vaccine, said nobody can be sure it is possible to find a workable vaccine.
On 20 April, the country will enter its fifth week in lockdown, with continued calls for clarity about measures that have shut schools and businesses, scaled back transport and closed and parks and public spaces closed as Britons are advised to pay heed to social distancing guidelines.
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