Johnson ‘on top of things’, but under fire over initial virus response

Published April 20, 2020
UK PM Boris Johnson was accused of being  “missing in action” in the early stages of the outbreak. — Reuters/File
UK PM Boris Johnson was accused of being “missing in action” in the early stages of the outbreak. — Reuters/File

LONDON: The British government insisted on Sunday that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was “on top of things” as he recovers from the coronavirus facing criticism of his early handling of the crisis.

The Conservative leader spent three days in intensive care after contracting the virus, and has been off work since March 27, but was released from hospital last Sunday after a week-long stay.

Britain’s official death toll from the virus now stands at 16,060 after 596 more deaths were reported on Sunday, and the country has been under lockdown since March 23, with the government extending it until at least the end of the month.

Education minister Gavin Williamson said on Sunday that “I can’t give you a date” as to when schools would reopen.

Recent figures suggest the outbreak in Britain was “starting to plateau”, said Jenny Harries, Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, but warned it was “not fair to say we are past the peak”.

Senior minister Michael Gove earlier sought to defend Johnson after the prime minister was accused of being “missing in action” in the early stages of the outbreak.

Johnson “is absolutely on top of things” and issuing instructions, Gove told Sky News. “The prime minister is recovering well, he is in cheerful spirits.”

His comments came after a Sunday Times newspaper report said Johnson had missed five of the government’s emergency response meetings in January and February.

“None of us expect the impossible, but there are serious questions about why the prime minister skipped Cobra meetings,” the opposition Labour Party’s shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News.

“It suggests early on he was missing in action.” Gove claimed there were inaccuracies in the Sunday Times report, which was based largely on unnamed civil service sources, and that the government would issue a rebuttal.

“The idea that the prime minister ‘skipped’ meetings, I think, is grotesque, there are meetings across government, some chaired by the health secretary, some chaired by other ministers,” he said.

“The prime minister took all the major decisions. Nobody can say that the prime minister wasn’t throwing heart and soul into the virus.” Williamson also defended his boss, saying he “has absolutely been leading our effort” to fight the virus.

The government is also under pressure over shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) for frontline health workers, with warnings that gowns could run out within days.

Chaand Nagpaul, chair of the council of the British Medical Association (BMA), told Sky that 50 percent of doctors are saying they feel they don’t have adequate protection. “The government hasn’t been as agile as it should have been,” he added.

“This is extremely emotionally taxing and it’s showing its toll on the healthcare workforce.” Gove said PPE was the government’s “first priority” and suggested that 25 million gowns would be arriving from China “in due course”.

“Gowns are the area at the moment where there is the greatest need,” he said.

Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2020

Opinion

Trending political talk
18 May 2021

Trending political talk

Come December and the Lahore jalsa and the shirt lengths went up a bit. The fad was changing.
Policy rate primer
17 May 2021

Policy rate primer

Economic activity generated by a lower policy rate may be illusory.

Editorial

Hard balancing act
Updated 18 May 2021

Hard balancing act

Pakistan has enjoyed close relations with Washington and Beijing; now is the wrong time to start prioritising one over the other.
18 May 2021

Covid awareness

THE effects of large gatherings over Eid as well as multiple home visits will be apparent in the days to come and...
18 May 2021

Karachi’s drains

THE initial realisation that Cyclone Tauktae was headed for the Sindh coast prompted the powers that be in the...
Palestine bloodbath
Updated 17 May 2021

Palestine bloodbath

One wonders whether the right of self-defence allows a country to butcher toddlers and the disabled, as Tel Aviv has done in Gaza.
17 May 2021

Registering madressahs

DURING the past two decades, several attempts by successive governments to standardise and regularise madressahs ...
17 May 2021

LSM growth

THE robust growth in large-scale industrial output since July last year has generated a kind of economic optimism...