Michael Gove defends PM's 'inspirational, strong leadership' amid claims he was absent from 5 COBRAS as virus spread


MICHAEL Gove has today defended Boris Johnson's "strong" and "inspirational" leadership – after claims he was absent from five COBRA meetings as the virus spread across the world.
The Cabinet minister insisted that the suggestion the PM had "skipped" meetings was "grotesque".

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It comes after a damning Sunday Times expose claimed that Mr Johnson did not get a grip on the crisis until the beginning of March as he was occupied with Brexit and other issues.

The PM is currently still recovering from his hospital stay at Chequers this weekend, and has not yet gone back to work.

Mr Gove defended the PM this morning, telling Sky's Sophy Ridge: "The idea that the Prime Minister skipped meetings that are vital to our response to corona is grotesque.

"There are meetings across government, some which are chaired by the Health Secretary, some chaired by other ministers.

"The PM took all the major decisions.

"No one can suggest the PM wasn’t throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus.

"This leadership has been clear, been inspirational at times.

"Nothing is more off-beam than the suggestion that the PM was anything other than energetic, focused and strong in his leadership against this virus."

The PM did not attend a Cobra meeting until March 2, but Matt Hancock the Health Secretary was present chairing the rest.

On January 24, Mr Hancock said after the first COBRA meeting that the risk to the UK was "low", even as it was starting to spread around the world.

This was despite scientists already warning alarm bells that the virus could be as deadly as the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed 50million people.

But the growing alarm among scientists appears was not recognised by people in Government at the time.

The first coronavirus case in the UK was confirmed on January 29 – just five days later.

But sources insisted that even after our first cases, emergency plans were not activated quick enough.

One said: “Almost every plan we had was not activated in February. Almost every government department has failed to properly implement their own pandemic plans."

It was claimed that austerity cuts in the last decade had slashed pandemic response plans, and that Britain was not prepared for a crisis.

And it was said that the Government had been planning for a major flu, rather than an emergency like this.

One senior minister said: “All of our planning was for pandemic flu. There has basically been a divide between scientists in Asia, who saw this as a horrible, deadly disease on the lines of Sars, which requires immediate lockdown, and those in the West, particularly in the US and UK, who saw this as flu."

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But the Government has repeatedly denied that so-called "herd immunity" was its goal, despite some advisers openly discussing it.

One adviser told the paper that the PM had been notably absent from leading the crisis until the last minute.

They 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 came as The Sun on Sunday revealed officials are looking at a traffic-light system for how to release the country from lockdown.

Small shops, hairdressers and warehouses could be the first to reopen after the next phase of the lockdown ends on May 8.

Smaller businesses and schools could be next, with the public advised to wear masks in public.

Pubs, restaurants and gyms would be the last to come back.


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SUN readers are today urged to sign a petition calling for our NHS staff to be awarded the George Cross.

Yesterday, we backed a proposal by Lord Ashcroft to honour our health heroes with the gallantry gong given for acts of bravery that did not take place in battle.

A No10 spokesman said: “The NHS is doing a fantastic job and the nation will want to find a way to say thank you when we have defeated this virus.”

SAS hero Andy McNab added: “The award of a George Cross would show an emotional appreciation.”

We are asking readers to sign the petition online at thesun.co.uk/georgecrossfornhs.

 

The report also noted that Britain sent hundreds of thousands of bits of PPE to China during the height of their crisis, despite Britain now being short of it here.

Last week it was revealed that some NHS hospitals are within days of running out of full-length gowns and will have to wear aprons instead.

The PM's official spokesman said back in February: "We have supplied them with 1,800 goggles, 430,000 disposable gloves, 194,000 sanitising wipes, 37,500 medical gowns and 2,500 facemasks."

The UK had 13 cases of coronavirus recorded by that point.

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