- The UK government has come under growing criticism from some experts, commentators and politicians for its response to the coronavirus.
- The UK has not introduced strict measures such as closing schools and banning mass gatherings, which multiple other European countries have introduced
- UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his scientific advisers insist such measures would be counter-productive at this stage.
- But former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said the government’s lack of action was ‘surprising and concerning.’
- The editor in chief of the medical journal The Lancet accused Johnson of “playing roulette” with the public’s health.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
The UK government is facing mounting criticism for its approach to the coronavirus, with politicians and scientists warning that he is not acting fast enough to prevent widespread harm to the public.
On Thursday, Johnson announced new plans to tackle the virus but stopped short of many of the so-called “social distancing” measures already being deployed by many other European countries.
The number of confirmed cases increased by almost 30% on Thursday to 590 with 10 deaths so far suffered across the country.
Johnson’s advisers predict that a large epidemic, on the scale of what is currently being seen in Italy, is likely less than a month away in the UK.
However, Johnson and his scientific advisers insist it is important not to introduce stricter measures at this stage, such as banning large gatherings and closing schools, too quickly.
But some politicians and experts have questioned why the UK government has not followed many other countries’ lead. Countries including France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Ireland have all introduced stricter measures than the UK, such as banning sporting events and closing down schools.
Leading the criticism was Jeremy Hunt, the former Conservative health secretary and colleague of Johnson’s, who said on Thursday that the government’s apparent lack of action was “surprising and concerning.”
“Every single thing you do makes a difference,” he told BBC Newsnight.
“I think it is surprising and concerning that we’re not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks that we get to the stage that Italy is at.”
“You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus.”
“The issue is not whether you or I might get infected at a football match, it’s who we go on to meet.”
Fmr Health Sec Jeremy Hunt says it's “surprising and concerning” the UK has not banned events “when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage Italy is at”#Newsnight pic.twitter.com/1zEYzRwjPI
— BBC Newsnight (@BBCNewsnight) March 12, 2020
Concern has risen among Johnson’s colleagues that Britain’s response is out of kilter with the rest of the world, especially after several members of parliament were forced to self-isolate this week when Nadine Dorries, the health minister, tested positive for coronavirus.
One MP, William Wragg, who placed himself in self-isolation, told ITV’s Paul Brand: “We must social distance.”
Rory Stewart, the former international development secretary who is running as an independent in the London mayoral race, has also been an outspoken critic of the government’s response and said it should have acted to close down schools and events weeks ago.
He said on Monday: “They should be acting much more aggressively to contain Coronavirus.
“Schools should be shut now. If the government are not prepared to shut them now, they should – at the very least – state clearly and transparently what their triggers will be for closing schools over the next few days.
“All medium and large gatherings should be cancelled. All passengers coming from hotspots should be tested and quarantined. There is no excuse for passengers not being tested off a plane from Milan last night.
“But there is a chance of getting on top of this. And that’s where my biggest disagreement with the government comes.”
Johnson warned on Thursday that “many more” people would die as a result of the coronavirus, but insisted that it was crucial to get the timing of the government’s response right. Introducing drastic measures too early, he said, could have a counterproductive impact.
Some medical experts say the government’s response has been measured and appropriate. But others say the government should have acted more quickly.
Professor John Ashton, a former regional director of public health for north-west England, told BBC Question Time on Tuesday that the government had “lost control” of the situation and said it should have acted much more quickly.
“I don’t know where to start really. I’m embarrassed by the situation in this country,” he said.
“This talk of four stages – and we’re now moving on from the containment thing – we’ve lost the plot here. We haven’t taken the action we should have taken four or five weeks ago.”
Professor Jimmy Whitworth, professor of international public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine told Sky News: “Based on evidence from other countries, the most realistic approach to this is to initiate the strongest public health measures that will be supported by the general British public.
“I am surprised that stronger measures haven’t been introduced at this stage, but I anticipate that they will come in the next week or two.”
The editor in chief of the medical journal The Lancet, Richard Horton, also accused Johnson of “playing roulette” with the public’s health and making a “major error”
“The UK government-Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson-claim they are following the science. But that is not true,” he tweeted.
“The evidence is clear. We need urgent implementation of social distancing and closure policies. The government is playing roulette with the public. This is a major error.”
The UK government—Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson—claim they are following the science. But that is not true. The evidence is clear. We need urgent implementation of social distancing and closure policies. The government is playing roulette with the public. This is a major error.
— richard horton (@richardhorton1) March 10, 2020