Boris Johnson has come under renewed scrutiny for lackluster coronavirus planning after it was revealed he skipped five Cobra crisis meetings in the weeks leading up to Britain’s outbreak.
The Prime Minister was accused of taking a backseat role in shoring up the country’s pandemic response, despite mounting concern from scientists about the accelerating health emergency in Wuhan.
His decision to delegate leadership while taking a country retreat underscored Mr Johnson’s lack of urgency, a senior Downing Street adviser told a bombshell Sunday Times investigation.
They alleged that long-term crisis preparations fell by the wayside as attention was diverted to Brexit no-deal planning.
The report suggests this fixation with Brexit is partially to blame for the current shortage of personal protective equipment.
Michael Gove, who is part of the so-called ‘quad’ of ministers steering the government’s response while the PM recovers from his own battle with the disease, this morning called the allegations ‘off-beam’.
Speaking to Sky’s Sophy Ridge, the minister for the cabinet office said: ‘There are one or two aspects of the Sunday Times report that are slightly off-beam.’
Mr Gove said he would not provide a detailed rebuttal of the newspaper article, which quoted a senior government aide who tore into the PM’s laid-back approach in the early stages.
Criticising the PM, the Downing Street insider said: ‘There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there.
‘And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends.
‘It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.’
A Number 10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.’
The comments came as controversy continued to grow over the insufficient levels of PPE for frontline NHS staff, and criticism that not enough people were being tested for the killer virus.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer accused the Government of dragging its feet in dealing with the pandemic.
Writing in the Mail on Sunday, Sir Keir said: ‘The Government was too slow to enter the lockdown.
‘It has been too slow to increase the number of people being tested.
‘It has been too slow in getting NHS staff the critical equipment they need to keep them safe. We need to make sure these mistakes are not repeated.
‘Other countries have begun to set out a road map to lift restrictions in certain sectors of the economy and for certain services, especially social care, when the time is right.
‘This of course must be done in a careful, considered way with public health, scientific evidence and the safety of workers and families at its heart. But the UK Government should be doing likewise.’
Medial care staff have expressed alarm as surgeons are being advised ‘not to risk their health’ by working without adequate PPE amid fears that hospitals could run out of supplies.
The Royal College of Surgeons of England (RCS) said it was ‘deeply disturbed’ that medics could be asked to reuse items or wear different kit when treating Covid-19 patients.
Healthcare staff treating positive patients have been given guidance that they should wear long-sleeved disposable fluid-repellent gowns but, because of shortages, they have just been advised they could be asked to reuse PPE or wear aprons.
The fear from medics comes as more than 15,000 patients have now died in hospital after testing positive for the disease in the UK, with thousands more deaths expected in care homes.
Professor Stephen Powis, the national medical director of NHS England, told a Downing Street briefing that it was ‘absolutely critical above everything else’ that supplies were delivered to the front line so the guidance on on wearing gowns could be followed.
‘I know Government is working incredibly hard to get those procurements in as you have heard,’ he said on Saturday.