UK government fights Covid-19 media storm

Ten days ago we noted that the UK’s Covid-19 crisis could turn into a political crisis – and it has.

At the weekend the Sunday Times’ Insight Team – once the vanguard of investigative journalism in the UK, more recently mostly investigating dirty doings in sport – produced a damning condemnation of the Government’s performance in preparing (or not) for the virus, focussing particularly on PM Boris Johnson’s seemingly relaxed approach to the looming crisis. In particular by missing five so-called Cobra meetings at which the virus was discussed.

Later on Sunday the Department of Health produced an unusually lengthy 2,000 word rebuttal of the Sunday Times allegations: on the Boris front saying it was not unusual for some other minister to chair such meetings. Mind you, Covid-19 is hardly usual. Other shortcomings were denied too.

The PM’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings returned to work last week after a bout of the virus. The combative Cummings is known for his lengthy blog posts and memos and this has his stamp all over it.

Also, at the regular daily media briefing on Sunday, deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries claimed that the UK’s coronovirus preparation had been “an international exemplar in preparedness.” She went on to say that the fact there had been a pandemic stockpile of medical kit should be considered “a very high quality mark of a prepared country in international terms.”

That the current “stockpile” seems stuck on a runway in Turkey (and nobody seems to know what’s in it) rather contradicts this. Harries suffered a social media mauling from numerous health workers and academic medics (who are, arguably, over-keen to take to the airwaves.)

These things happen in a crisis but the UK establishment, so far anyway, does not come out of it well. Other countries were better prepared and acted sooner.

The Government has compounded its problems by having no agreed path to ending the lockdown. In the time-honoured way a number of ideas were floated in the Sunday papers (funny how struggling newspapers still make the political weather) including the notion that people over 70 (of whom there are still quite a lot in the UK despite the ravages of the virus) should be “locked down” for another year. At the end of which time there might well be far fewer of them – is this government policy?

We know not who came up with this authoritarian (and inhumane) notion although we have our suspicions.

Boris, now recovered enough to hold a two-hour video with colleagues (which he might have opened by saying “WTF is going on?”) needs to get a grip.

All his career, as journalist and politician, he’s managed by winging it. Rather more is now required.

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About Stephen Foster

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Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

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