Coronavirus: UK death toll passes 16,000

Gove confirms Boris Johnson missed five Cobra meetings as crisis gathered pace

UK MP Michael Gove has called reports of Boris Johnson missing crucial meetings on the Covid-19 pandemic "off beam". Video: SKY

 

A total of 16,060 patients have died in hospital after testing positive for coronavirus in the UK as of 5pm on Saturday, its department of health said, up by 596 from 15,464 the day before.

The latest figures came after chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove denied suggestions the British government has drawn up plans for a three-tiered relaxation of lockdown measures put in place in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Gove also confirmed on Sunday that British prime minister Boris Johnson had not attended five meetings of the key government Cobra committee as the coronavirus outbreak gathered pace.

But Mr Gove insisted criticism of Mr Johnson over this was “grotesque”.

Mr Gove poured cold water on suggestions a “traffic light” strategy is about to be brought in which would see some schools and businesses allowed to reopen in mid-May.

Mr Gove told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “We have stressed that the reporting in today’s newspapers that schools will reopen on May 11th, that is not true, we have not made that decision.”

Education secretary Gavin Williamson also denied a decision had been made to reopen schools.

Mr Gove said ministers do not want to “take steps too early” despite the rate of infection appearing “to be flattening”.

Investigation

The comments followed an investigation in The Sunday Times in which a Whitehall source claimed the British government “missed the boat on testing and PPE [personal protective equipment]” and “just watched” as the death toll mounted in Wuhan, China, where the Covid-19 virus originated.

The wide-ranging report said the prime minister missed five meetings of the key Cobra committee, and stated a number of opportunities were missed by the government in January, February and March to try and lessen the impact of the gathering crisis.

More than 2.33 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 159,818 have died, according to a Reuters tally.

Mr Gove told Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “The idea that the prime minister skipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think is grotesque.” Mr Gove stated that one or two aspects of The Sunday Times story were “off beam”.

Mr Gove also told Sky News that Mr Johnson was “recovering well” at Chequers, his country estate, following treatment for Covid-19 in intensive care at St Thomas’s Hospital in London earlier this month.

Meanwhile, a delivery of protective equipment for British health workers that was due on Sunday from Turkey has been delayed, a British government official said, as medics on the frontline of the coronavirus outbreak in Britain increasingly report shortages of gear.

With hospitals under strain, health workers have criticised the government’s advice that PPE worn while treating patients infected with coronavirus could be reused, as supplies run low across the country. – PA/Reuters