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Growing evidence of Downing Street ineptitude

There can be no doubt that the British public has displayed huge sympathy for prime minister Boris Johnson since he became seriously ill after testing positive for Covid-19.'. Picture by Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Leading Article

There can be no doubt that the British public has displayed huge sympathy for prime minister Boris Johnson since he became seriously ill after testing positive for Covid-19.

Mr Johnson is still recovering from his three days in intensive care at St Thomas’ hospital in London for treatment which he has acknowledged `could have gone either way.’

He was eventually discharged on April 12, but is resting at his country residence, Chequers, and it is not certain when he may be able to resume his full duties.

However, even in Mr Johnson’s unavoidable absence, it remains essential that his administration is held to account for its performance at all stages of the pandemic and particularly during the crucial period in late January and early February when initial indications of the looming catastrophe demanded decisive action.

The British government did stage a meeting of its crisis committee known as Cobra on January 24 but the health minister Matt Hancock astonishingly announced afterwards that the overall threat to the UK was low.

It was confirmed yesterday through a detailed report in The Sunday Times that Mr Johnson failed to attend not only the January 24 gathering but also the next four Cobra meetings on the virus.

When he finally managed to participate in a Cobra session five weeks later on March 2, the appalling consequences from the spread of Covid-19 could no longer be disputed but major questions were still developing over the approach of Mr Johnson and his cabinet.

The Sunday Times coverage set out grave concerns about the reluctance of senior Westminster politicians to generally act on clearly expressed warnings from leading scientists and specifically to order vital protective equipment in sufficient time.

Many of the recent deliberations within the Stormont executive have effectively centred on whether to follow advice from London or Dublin before finalising key decisions.

Writing in The Irish News on Saturday, Dr Gabriel Scally, president of the Epidemiology and Public Health section of the Royal Society of Medicine, made a firm call for agreement on an eventual all-Ireland exit strategy from the present lockdown.

The case put forward by Dr Scally was a convincing one and contrasted sharply with the disturbing evidence of Downing Street ineptitude which emerged yesterday and dealt a heavy blow to the wider credibility of the British government’s response to coronavirus.

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