Coronavirus: Boris Johnson Outlines U.K. Response After Emergency Cobra Meeting

Date: 2020-03-12 18:01:16

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U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is addressing the media after the coronavirus COBRA meeting in London. #Coronavirus #Covid19 #CobraMeeting

Johnson is under pressure to ramp up the U.K.’s response to the spread of coronavirus after he was accused of gambling with the nation’s health.

“The government is playing roulette with the public,” Richard Horton, editor of the respected British medical journal The Lancet, said on Twitter this week. Officials have been too slow to implement measures to delay the spread of the virus, including canceling events and “social distancing,” he said.

That view was echoed by David Nabarro, the World Health Organization’s special envoy on the Covid-19 coronavirus, who told BBC Radio on Thursday that Horton “is right to point out that really urgent action is needed.” He added, though, that it’s not his role to dictate “particular steps” any government must take.

Johnson has staked considerable political capital on adopting what he calls a “science-based” approach to the virus, arguing that some of the dramatic measures implemented in countries like China and Italy — where millions of people are on lock down — aren’t relevant to the U.K.

The prime minister is hosting a meeting of the government’s Cobra crisis committee on Thursday, which is expected to agree a move to the next phase of its plans, though may stop short of closing schools. It comes after the U.S. banned flights from continental Europe and the Republic of Ireland announced a shut-down of public facilities.

Eight people have died in the U.K. from the virus, which has so far been confirmed in 590 of the 29,764 people tested, the Department of Health and Social Care said in its regular daily update on Thursday.

The pound slumped against the dollar on Thursday, while the U.K.’s benchmark stock index is down almost 30% in a month.

“The U.K.’s response needs to learn lessons from what happened in China and what is now happening in Italy,” Horton said in another tweet on Thursday. “The U.K.’s policy is not evidence-based because it seems to be ignoring the most important evidence from elsewhere. Truly unbelievable.”

Even Jeremy Hunt, the U.K.’s health secretary until 2018 and still an MP for Johnson’s Conservative Party, questioned the government’s approach. “We now have more reported cases in this country than there were in Wuhan when it went into lock down,” he told Parliament late Wednesday.

Another former Conservative minister, Rory Stewart, who is running as an independent to be Mayor of London, accused Johnson’s administration of dragging its feet.

“Schools should be closed and gatherings banned immediately to reduce the death toll,” Stewart said on Twitter. “If we do not act, we could have 100,000 cases in 24 days.”

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