Boris Johnson to hold daily coronavirus press briefings | Politics

Boris Johnson will seek to shore up public confidence in the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic on Monday by holding the first of what are intended to be daily ministerial press conferences on the crisis.

The prime minister, who had been under growing pressure to start holding daily briefings amid criticism of his response to Covid-19 and the media strategy used to explain it, will personally chair many of the daily briefings, which No 10 says will continue “as long as necessary”.

On Monday afternoon he will also chair another Cobra meeting, where ministers will discuss measures that would dramatically escalate the steps being taken by the UK to tackle the virus.

They are expected to discuss a planned ban on mass gatherings, proposals to ask whole households to stay at home when someone falls ill and the move, expected within weeks, to ask the over-70s to stay at home for up to four months. They are also due to discuss the modelling used by the government to determine its overall strategy, which is due to be published soon.

The daily briefings, which are intended to focus on informing the public “on how to protect themselves”, will also routinely feature Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser.

Johnson, who for most of his time in office has shown little enthusiasm for exposing himself to media scrutiny, announced the plan after the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said daily briefings were needed to ensure people got “much clearer guidance” on what the government was doing and why. All three Labour leadership candidates and Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, had also demanded greater clarity.

On Monday Johnson is also due to hold a conference call with British manufacturers, who will be urged to switch production to start making the ventilators required by hospitals, and he will participate in a conference call with fellow G7 leaders in which he will be calling for global action to fight the disease and its economic impact.

Calls for a daily ministerial press conference intensified over the weekend, following at least three incidents of Whitehall giving out contradictory messages over coronavirus, with the uncertainty compounded by the fact that some key reporting was based on unattributable sources.

On Friday morning Vallance gave an interview defending the government’s decision not to ban large sporting events – only for No 10 to brief that evening that a ban would soon be implemented.

In his interview Vallance also spoke about the potential advantage of the UK acquiring some element of herd immunity to coronavirus. But his comments triggered a fierce backlash on social media, with people claiming it amounted to evidence that the government was happy for large numbers of people to get coronavirus. On Sunday Matt Hancock, the health secretary, had to distance himself from Vallance, saying “herd immunity is not our goal or policy”.

The health secretary then found himself being contradicted by officials in Scotland. He said the government would soon ask the over-70s to “stay self-isolated” at home for four months, but his use of the term “self-isolate” was taken by some to mean the elderly would be told not just to minimise contact with others, but to avoid it altogether.

Although Johnson’s decision to front many of the daily press conferences himself will be seen as testimony to the seriousness with which he is approaching the crisis, former Labour health secretary Andy Burnham, now mayor of Greater Manchester, said it would be better for the chief medical officer to chair the daily government briefings.

Burnham added that this was what happened when the government was handling swine flu during his time in office and that everything became “a bit calmer” when the official briefings were no longer entangled with politics.

Although a poll at the weekend suggests 53% of voters trust the government to deal with the pandemic, ministers have come under pressure to explain why the UK is not matching some of the tougher measures being taken in other European countries, where bars, restaurants and non-essential shops have been closed, as well as schools.

In an interview on Sunday, Hancock rejected the claim that the UK measures were out of step with what was happening elsewhere.

“We are similar to many countries,” he claimed. “For instance, we are very similar to the approach being taken in Germany and Australia and others.

“It is about making sure you do the right thing at the right time. We are prepared to take, if we need to, all the sorts of measures [discussed], but we will do it based on the science.”

Source link