Boris Johnson to chair emergency Cobra meeting on coronavirus outbreak
Boris Johnson is to finally chair an emergency Cobra meeting on the coronavirus as George Osborne called for the UK to be put on a "war footing” to deal with the outbreak.
The Prime Minister will oversee the committee of ministers and officials on Monday - after he spends the weekend at his Chequers country residence - in response to criticism of how the Government is dealing with COVID-19.
Mr Osborne, the former Chancellor, said the public was “fearful” as the virus continued to spread around the world - and warned Number 10 the public need to "know their leaders have got a grip”.
On Friday morning the number of confirmed cases in the UK rose to 19, after the first positive tests were recorded in Northern Ireland and Wales.
The FTSE 100 opened down sharply amid fears the outbreak could damage the global economy, after the US Dow Jones index suffered its biggest one-day drop in its history on Thursday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has chaired all the coronavirus-related Cobra meetings so far, meaning the Prime Minister's decision is a sign of increasing government concern at its potential impact.
Mr Johnson has also been accused by Jeremy Corbyn of being a "part-time Prime Minister" over his response to the virus and the recent floods.
A Number 10 spokesman said of the Cobra meeting: "This is a response to the growing number of cases in Europe and need for PM to make sure everything that can be done is being done.”
The spokesman also defended the Government's ongoing boycott of some TV and radio shows, including Radio Four's Today programme, Newsnight and ITV's Good Morning Britain.
He said: "Over the past weeks and months you will have seen the Heallth Secretary and the Chief Medical Officer do countless interviews and that won't change."
The announcement came after Mr Johnson made a surprise, off-camera visit to Kettering Hospital on Thursday night.
He spent four hours with the night-shift team between 11pm and 3am, shadowing staff in accident & emergency, ICU and paediatric departments.
And he spent time discussing preparations for dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak with senior doctors, amid concern t he NHS may struggle to cope if the number of UK cases increases.
The visit came after the PM has faced criticism for not taking personal responsibility for dealing with the virus so far, with Health Secretary Matt Hancock co-ordinating the Government’s response.
Mr Osborne tweeted on Friday morning: “The British Government now needs to go onto a ‘war footing’ with the coronavirus: daily NHS press briefings, regular COBRA meetings chaired by the PM, Ministers on all major media shows.
"The public is fearful, wants information and needs to know their leaders have got a grip."
Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth said Mr Johnson should not wait until Monday before chairing Cobra.
He said: "Our part-time Prime Minister needs to get a grip of this escalating situation quickly. It shouldn’t take another three days for this meeting to take place.
"People are understandably worried. Boris Johnson should drop his childish ban on ministers appearing on BBC radio programmes. The public deserves to hear what plans are in place to deal with the outbreak."