Downing Street hit backs at Sunday Times report accusing the newspaper of ‘falsehoods’ and ‘errors’

Boris Johnson holds a cabinet meeting with Tory ministers. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA.

Boris Johnson holds a cabinet meeting with Tory ministers. Photograph: Matt Dunham/PA. - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Downing Street has hit back at newspaper reports about Boris Johnson's handling of the coronavirus, accusing the Sunday Times of 'falsehoods' and 'errors'.

The article claimed the Johnson administration 'just watched' as the death toll mounted in Wuhan, China.

A government spokesman said: 'This article contains a series of falsehoods and errors and actively misrepresents the enormous amount of work which was going on in government at the earliest stages of the coronavirus outbreak.

'This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.

'The government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.

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'Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.

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'The prime minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.'

The tone of the statement, posted on the official website, was much more aggressive than that used by the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove on Sunday morning TV appearances when he described the article as 'off beam'.

Gove had confirmed the Sunday Times report that the PM had not attended five meetings of the key government committee Cobra in the run-up to the crisis, but insisted this was not unusual.

That stance was echoed by the government spokesman who said: 'It is entirely normal and proper for Cobra to be chaired by the relevant secretary of state.

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'At this point the World Health Organisation had not declared Covid-19 a 'Public Health Emergency of International Concern', and only did so on January 30.

'Indeed, they chose not to declare a PHEIC the day after the Cobra meeting.'

In reference to the report that the UK sent 279,000 items of protective equipment to China earlier this year, the government spokesman said: 'The equipment was not from the pandemic stockpile.

'We provided this equipment to China at the height of their need and China has since reciprocated our donation many times over. Between April 2-April 15 we have received over 12 million pieces of PPE in the UK from China.'

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