Boris Johnson accused of slow response to coronavirus pandemic amid claim he 'didn't work weekends'

LONDON, April 2, 2020 .File photo taken on April 2, 2020 shows British Prime Minister Boris Johnson clapping for National Health Service staff outside 11 Downing Street in London, Britain. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was taken to intensive care on Monday night after his coronavirus symptoms worsened, Downing Street said. Johnson has asked Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to deputize for him, a Downing Street spokesman said. (Pippa Fowles/No 10 Downing Street/Handout to Xinhua via Getty) (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Xinhua/Han Yan via Getty Images)
Boris Johnson clapping for National Health Service staff outside 11 Downing Street. (Getty)

The government has denied reports Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings in the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak after he was criticised for his slow response to the pandemic.

A number of opportunities had been missed by Number 10 in January, February and March to try and lessen the impact of the gathering crisis, according to a report published by The Sunday Times.

In the article, a senior adviser from Downing Street said that in the early days of the outbreak in the UK, Johnson “didn’t chair any meetings, liked his country breaks and didn’t work weekends”.

The prime minister also reportedly went away to on a retreat to Chevening House in Kent where he spent two weeks over half-term with his pregnant fiancee, Carrie Symonds.

SEVENOAKS, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 08: Chevening House Estate, country house and official residence of the foreign secretary of the United Kingdom on August 08, 2011, in Sevenoaks, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Thomas Imo/Photothek via Getty Images)
Mr Johnson reportedly spent two weeks away at the Chevening House Estate in Kent. (Getty)

The article sparked a fierce social media backlash over the weekend, with figures from across the political spectrum criticising Johnson’s approach.

Shadow health and social care secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “The public deserve clear answers as to why the prime minister skipped five vital vital Cobra meetings.

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“We knew in February how serious this virus was. Yet today our NHS and care staff still lacking adequate PPE, testing is not at levels needed and hospitals delivered wrong ventilators.”

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols tweeted: “Some absolutely jaw dropping revelations in The Times about the government's (mis)handling of the pandemic. I could weep.”

While fellow Labour MP Charlotte Owen said: “This shocking report points to unforgivable levels of negligence.

“NHS workers and those who have lost loved ones will deserve answers to the damning questions raised in this article.”

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove defended the prime minister on Sunday, however, saying that some aspects of the newspaper story were “off beam”.

“The idea that the prime minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque,” he said.

"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. His leadership has been clear.

"He's been inspirational at times."

A Downing Street spokesman also released a statement saying: “The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”

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