British Prime Minister Boris Johnson skipped several meetings focused on the spread of the coronavirus and failed to heed the warnings of public health experts about the dangers of the fast-spreading virus, a new report claims.
The report noted that the British government went into “wartime mode” back in January as the virus began spreading outside of China, holding a meeting of the national crisis committee Cobra. But many officials still failed to take the threat seriously, the report stated, with meeting chair and Health Secretary Matt Hancock telling reporters afterward that the risk to the United Kingdom was “low.”
Johnson was not at that January 24 meeting and did not attend the next four meetings of Cobra, the report noted. It was not until March 2, when the U.K. had more than three dozen confirmed cases, that Johnson attended his first meeting, according to the report.
A senior adviser to Johnson said the prime minister’s failure to act and to heed warnings from public health officials during these “lost” weeks were a major contributor to the sharp rise in cases.
“There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there,” the adviser said.
“And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”
Johnson was heavily criticized for taking an early strategy to mitigate the spread of the virus rather than ordering stringent lockdown measures similar to ones put in place in other countries. As Business Insider reported, Johnson quickly abandoned the mitigation strategy after a report from Imperial College of London predicted that it would result in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, with cases coming so quickly that hospital systems would be overwhelmed and unable to properly respond to the urgent needs of patients.
Johnson has since taken a more aggressive stance toward combating the spread of the coronavirus, placing stay-at-home orders and closing non-essential businesses across the United Kingdom, measures that will remain in place for weeks to come.