Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Reuters

Boris Johnson skipped multiple emergency meetings on the coronavirus in January and February as it spread rapidly across the world, according to a damning report in the Sunday Times newspaper.

By the time Johnson appeared at the first Cobra meeting to discuss the virus on March 3, more than 40 people had already tested positive for COVID-19.

“He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends,” said an unnamed advisor.

The report also claimed that the government failed to act on warnings from scientists about the virus.

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Boris Johnson missed multiple emergency meetings on the coronavirus as it spread rapidly across the world and ignored warnings from scientists about its lethality, according to a damning report in the Sunday Times. The result was Britain lost “a crucial five weeks in the fight to tackle the dangerous threat of coronavirus,” it said.

Johnson, who is not currently working as he recovers from the coronavirus, reportedly skipped five of the government’s emergency Cobra committee meetings in January and February held to discuss COVID-19, which has now claimed more than 15,000 lives in the UK.

On January 24, when the government had held the first such meeting, an alarming study in The Lancet, a respected medical journal, warned that it could be as lethal as the 1918 Spanish Flu, which killed tens of millions of people.

But the government appeared relaxed about the virus. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, emerged from the meeting and told reporters the risk of the virus to the British public was “low.”

By the time Johnson appeared at the first Cobra meeting to discuss the virus on March 3, more than 40 people had already tested positive for COVID-19.

Speaking on Sunday, Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, denied that Johnson had missed vital meetings on the coronavirus. “The idea that the Prime Minister slipped meetings that were vital to our response to the coronavirus, I think, is grotesque,” he told Sky’s Ridge on Sunday.

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The prime minister took all the major decisions, he said.

Gove did not deny that the content of the story was broadly true, but said that “one or two aspects of the Sunday Times report that are slightly off-beam.”

A senior Downing Street adviser, who spoke anonymously, singled out Johnson’s complacency and told the Sunday Times: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there.”

They also criticized his work ethic, referencing his decision to spend two weeks in January at the prime minister’s grace-and-favor mansion Chevening with his fiancé Carrie Symonds.

“What you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends,” the adviser said.

The report also claimed that the government failed to act on warnings from scientists about the virus.

Professor Neil Ferguson, one of the government’s most influential advisers on the coronavirus, issued a stark warning on January 24. In an alarming report, he explained that the virus had an unusually high infectivity rate, which made it particularly dangerous.

He also said the transmission rate in the UK needed to be cut by 60%, which in practice meant the government needed to introduce strict social distancing measures.

But ministers believed this was unthinkable, and Johnson would not introduce a lockdown until the end of March, by which time the virus had already spread significantly among the population.

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