Government criticised for lack of transparency over coronavirus response after anonymous briefing

PUBLISHED: 13:03 15 March 2020 | UPDATED: 16:16 15 March 2020

Health secretary Matt Hancock on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire  .

Health secretary Matt Hancock on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire .

Boris Johnson has been criticised over how the government communicates plans to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak and faced calls for greater transparency.

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Lisa Nandy MP appearing via video link on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire.Lisa Nandy MP appearing via video link on the Andrew Marr show. Photograph: Jeff Overs/BBC/PA Wire.

The prime minister was under increased pressure to publish the data Downing Street was relying on to make decisions on how to counteract the spread of Covid-19, and there was criticism over how individual journalists and publications were learning government plans before they are announced to the wider public.

Johnson faced calls to increase press conferences to detail plans and face questioning as it emerged over-70s could be told 'in the coming weeks' to stay at home for up to four months

In a televised interview, health secretary Matt Hancock confirmed the proposal as well as another move to give police powers to arrest sick citizens who are not self-isolating.

However, both proposals had already been learned by individual reporters while Hancock wrote an article on tackling the pandemic for the Telegraph, which was originally hidden behind a paywall.

Theresa May's former chief of staff Lord Barwell said: 'I cannot say this strongly enough: Ministers need to stop anonymously briefing journalists and start speaking directly to the public.

'Trust in government is going to be vital during the difficult months ahead and it is best fostered by transparency, not off-the-record briefing.'

Sir Keir Starmer, the favourite to lead the Labour Party, called for a 'daily press conference' over the virus to be hosted by the PM or a minister.

'I am deeply concerned that over the past 48 hours ministers have been failing in their responsibilities to provide consistent and transparent public health advice,' he said.


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'To allow anonymous and speculative briefings to journalists about a significant step-change in the government's response to the outbreak is irresponsible.'

Fellow leadership contender Lisa Nandy accused the Government of being in a 'shambles' over its response to the coronavirus outbreak.

'This is causing serious concern out in the public. People just don't know what to do for the best,' she told the Andrew Marr Show on the BBC.

'This is a public health crisis and so the public must have confidence in the strategy the government is following.'

Some in the scientific community also have criticised government plans not to quickly impose stringent restrictions to limit the disease's spread.

Labour's shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the Government to publish its modelling so a wider pool of experts can scrutinise the plans.

'I just need to understand better why the government is taking a different approach, based on its science, from other countries and I think that's why it is so important that all the scientific modelling, for example, is published,' he told Sky's Ridge On Sunday.

'If things have changed since the prime minister's press conference on Thursday, then the prime minister should be doing another press conference today and explaining why things have changed.'

Hancock said ministers will publish modelling over the pandemic 'in the coming days' but said scientists had been 'extremely busy' when pressed on the delay.

'Of course there's a lively debate about what's the best course of action. The scientific evidence is absolutely critical in underpinning our response,' he told Ridge.

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