20 Apr 2020

Boris Johnson under fire for missing early crisis meetings on Covid-19

7:56 am on 20 April 2020

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson missed all the early meetings of the emergency Cobra committee, a newspaper says, as his government is criticised for its handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

A handout image released by 10 Downing Street, shows Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson as he delivers a television address after returning to 10 Downing Street after being discharged from St Thomas' Hospital, in central London on April 12, 2020.

The UK government is defending Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is recovering from Covid-19. Photo: AFP

For several weeks the UK government has been accused of missing a number of opportunities to lessen the impact of the coronavirus.

The Sunday Times reports that Boris Johnson missed five meetings of the emergency Cobra committee as the health crisis was looming and the government is accused of losing weeks in the fight against Covid-19.

The government is facing criticism over its preparedness for the crisis, over testing, the timing of the lockdown and personal protective equipment.

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove told Sky there were aspects of the newspaper report that were "slightly off beam", and would not be drawn on accusations that the UK sent 266,000 pieces of protective equipment to China.

Gove shook off the criticism of Johnson, saying it was normal for the nation's leader not to attend every meeting.

Gove said it was "grotesque" to portray Johnson "as though not caring about this".

"The prime minister took all the major decisions. Nobody can say that the prime minister wasn't throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus," Gove said.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth was damning of the senior minister's comments.

Ashworth told Sky: "Michael Gove's line that one or two aspects of this story are off beam is possibly the weakest rebuttal of a detailed expose in British political history."

Johnson is still convalescing after spending almost a week in intensive care with coronavirus.

Governors dispute Trump's claims on tests

Governors in US states hardest hit by Covid-19 have sparred with President Donald Trump over his claims they have enough tests and should quickly reopen their economies.

New York continued to see hospitalisations decline to 16,000 from a high of 18,000, and the number of patients being kept alive by ventilators also fell. There were 507 new deaths, down from a high of more than 700 a day.

"If the data holds and if this trend holds, we are past the high point and all indications at this point are that we are on a descent," Governor Andrew Cuomo said at a daily briefing, while urging residents to continue social distancing.

"We showed you can control the beast. But it's only half time. We still have to make sure we keep the beast down."

*See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

To get a baseline of how many people were infected with the novel coronavirus, Cuomo said the state would do the most aggressive anti-body testing in the nation in the next week using a random sample.

New York will test 14,000 people per week out of the 19 million residents in the state.

The United States has by far the world's largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 740,000 infections and over 40,000 deaths.

Cuomo, along with other governors, are clamouring for more tests to detect new infections as well as to test for immunity as part of their plans to reopen their states.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland during a CNN interview said claims by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that states have plenty of tests were "just absolutely false".

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam of Virginia told CNN the idea states have enough tests was "delusional."

The region of Maryland, Virginia and Washington D.C. is still seeing increasing cases. New Jersey reported on Sunday that its new cases rose by nearly 3900, the most in more than two weeks. Boston and Chicago are also emerging hot spots with recent surges in cases and deaths.

Several states, including Ohio, Texas and Florida, have said they aim to reopen parts of their economies, perhaps by 1 May or even sooner. The governors of Michigan and Ohio on Sunday said they could double or triple their testing capacity if the federal government helped them acquire more swabs and reagents, chemicals needed as part of the testing process.

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND - APRIL 17: Maryland Governor Larry Hogan talks to reporters during a news briefing about the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic in front of the Maryland State House April 17, 2020 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Governor Larry Hogan of Maryland gives a briefing to journalists on his state's handling of Covid-19. Photo: AFP

Cases surge in Turkey

The latest coronavirus figures from Turkey show it now has more cases than China, the origin of the pandemic.

Turkey registered nearly 4000 new cases in 24 hours, bringing the total to more than 86,000, the highest total for any country outside Europe or the United States.

Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said 127 more people have died, taking the death toll to 2017.

Turkey only reported its first coronavirus patient on 10 March, but has seen the number of confirmed cases rise sharply since then. It now has the seventh-highest total in the world. So far it has tested more than 634,000 people.

ISTANBUL, TURKEY - APRIL 19: A man is seen on Uskudar Coastal Road near Maiden's Tower in Istanbul, Turkey on April 19, 2020 after restrictions re-imposed in 31 provinces for two days as part of measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19).

A cyclist rests in Istanbul which is deserted due to restrictions to fight Covid-19. Photo: AFP

Europe's death toll passes 100,000

Europe has recorded more than 100,000 deaths from the new coronavirus, according to the Johns Hopkins University map documenting the pandemic.

The European Centre for Disease Control says the continent now has more than 1 million confirmed cases.

According to the JHU tally, Spain had the most cases in the region with 195,000, followed by Italy, France, Germany and the United Kingdom.

It listed Italy as having the most deaths in Europe, with more than 23,600, followed by Spain (20,400), France (19,700), Britain (16,000) and Belgium (5600).

According to the ECDC tally, Europe accounts for almost half the global case load and more than half the total deaths.

Some encouraging signs in France

The coronavirus situation in France is improving "slowly but surely" and shortages of protective gear such as face masks are easing, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said, although he warned that the crisis was far from over.

France - which has recorded close to 20,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic and has the fourth-highest toll in the world - has been in virtual lockdown for nearly five weeks and is due to start lifting some confinement measures from 11 May.

Philippe told a news conference that falls in the number of people in intensive care were one of the encouraging signals that pressures on hospitals were easing.

But he shut down any expectations that the gradual exit from confinement in May, due to start with the reopening of schools, would allow people to move around or interact as before, especially as a vaccine against the virus was still far off.

Situation stabilises in Italy

Italy said that deaths from the coronavirus pandemic rose by 433, the lowest daily tally in a week, and the number of new cases slowed to 3047 from a previous 3491.

The death toll as reported by Italy's Civil Protection Agency had risen by 482 yesterday, down from 575 on Saturday.

The daily tallies of deaths and cases extend the broadly stable situation in place over the last two weeks.

This picture shows a military convoy outside the church of San Giuseppe in Seriate, Italy on March 28, 2020, as coffins of people deceased from the COVID-19 novel coronavirus are carried to be blessed inside the church.

A convoy carrying coffins of people who died from the coronavirus are taken to a church in Seriate, Italy. Photo: AFP

'Situation under control' - Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin said authorities there have the coronavirus crisis under full control and that everything would work out with God's help, even as the country on Sunday registered a record daily rise in cases of the new virus.

Russia reported 6060 new cases in the previous 24 hours, bringing its nationwide tally to 42,853, though the official death toll of 361 remains relatively low compared with other countries with a similar number of cases.

In a video message to congratulate Christians on the Orthodox Easter, Putin said the religious festival would strengthen Russians' hope and faith because the resurrection of Christ was a powerful symbol of rebirth and a reminder that life goes on.

"All levels of power are working in an organised, responsible and timely way," said Putin. "The situation is under full control. All of our society is united in front of the common threat."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was quoted by the RIA news agency as saying there was hope that signs might start appearing this week that the number of cases, which has risen relentlessly, might begin to plateau.

- BBC / Reuters

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