Michael Gove has issued a staunch defence of the government’s response to coronavirus.
The chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster was questioned by Sophy Ridge on the many perceived failures of government, following the publication of a damning report by the Times which accuses prime minister Boris Johnson of skipping five COBRA meetings as the crisis gathered pace.
Amidst a flurry of questions on the issues of PPE, testing and an exit strategy, the prime minister’s former nemesis was asked directly for his view on how Mr Johnson has handled the pandemic.
Gove was unequivocal in his response, calling the prime minister’s leadership ‘inspirational’ as he described the accusations levelled in the Times report as ‘wildly off-beam’.
The findings of this report have placed further scrutiny on a government already much-maligned for its approach to date, which Ridge described as ‘always playing catch-up’.
Gove made a number of claims with respect to the UK’s coronavirus strategy, including:
– Reports of plans to ease the lockdown are inaccurate at this stage, including rumours that schools are set to re-open
– A consignment of PPE is due to arrive from Turkey
– There is a deal in place for 25 million gowns to arrive from China
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– Lord Dayton — who was instrumental in the organisation of the Olympics in 2012 — has agreed to lead a task force designed to ensure PPE is distributed quickly and efficiently
– The government are on course to carry out 100,000 tests by the end of April, as per Matt Hancock’s pledge
He also refused to comment on the report’s claim that the UK government sent 279,000 items of its depleted stockpile of protective equipment to China during this period in response to a request for help from the authorities there.
The politician said that ‘there should be public debate on how we navigate these difficult choices’, before re-affirming that the government have followed the science at all times.
Shadow health minister Jonathan Ashworth — interviewed immediately after Gove — called the latter’s ‘off-beam’ description ‘the weakest rebuttal of an expose’.
Ashworth pressed for clarity on the government’s strategy, highlighting that lockdown is merely ‘a tool that is a part of a strategy’.
He urged that Labour’s request for an exit strategy was in no-way designed to discourage people to stay at home, but that the government must consider life beyond lockdown.