20 April 2020

Government hits out at newspaper allegations, calling them 'plainly untrue' and 'ridiculous' in unusual published rebuttal

The government has published a 2,000 word document rebutting allegations that the UK lost a vital five weeks in tackling  the coronavirus threat.

In an unusual move, the Department of Health challenged allegations made in The Sunday Times, describing elements of its report as "plainly untrue" and "ridiculous".

The article had claimed that Boris Johnson missed five key COBRA meetings as the COVID-19 crisis gathered pace, with government whistleblowers and scientists alleging there was complacency at the heart of government in late January and February.

The document took particular issue with claims Mr Johnson missed meetings, saying: "This virus has hit countries around the world. It is ridiculous to suggest that coronavirus only reached the UK because the health secretary and not the PM chaired a COBRA meeting."

It goes on to defend its actions around Personal Protective Equipment after it sent 279,000 PPE items to China.

"The equipment was not from the pandemic stockpile. We provided this equipment at the height of their need and China has since reciprocated our donation many times over.

"Between 2 April and 15 April, we have received over 12 million pieces of PPE in the UK from China."

The department also hit out at claims from a source in the article which said there was a failure of leadership within government.

"The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the Government response to Covid-19, providing the leadership to steer his Ministerial team through a hugely challenging period for the whole nation. 

"This anonymous source is variously described as a ‘senior adviser to Downing Street’ and a ‘senior Downing Street adviser’. The two things are not the same. One suggests an adviser employed by the government in No10. The other someone who provides ad hoc advice. Which is it?"

Ministers were grilled about the damning article in broadcast interviews yesterday.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove told Sophie Ridge on Sunday: "I think that anyone who considered what happened to the prime minister not long ago, nobody can say the prime minister isn't throwing heart and soul into fighting this virus."

He added he thought it was 'grotesque' to suggest Mr Johnson had missed meeting that 'were vital to our response to the coronavirus'.

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