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Jeremy Hunt hits out at the Government's 'concerning' response to coronavirus epidemic

Jeremy Hunt hits out at the Government's 'concerning' response to coronavirus epidemic
3 min read

Jeremy Hunt has voiced his fears over the Government's "concerning" response to the coronavirus crisis.

The former Health Secretary said Boris Johnson was not doing enough to prevent the UK being overwhelmed by the deadly illness in the same way Italy has been.

Mr Hunt, who is now chair of the Health Select Committee, spoke out after the Government announced it was stepping up its response to the outbreak by moving from the "contain" to "delay" phase of its response.

Anyone with a persistent cough or a temperature above 37.8 degrees is being urged to stay at home for at least seven days.

Schools have also been ordered to cancel foreign trips, while elderly people have been told not to go on cruises.

However, the Government's emergency Cobra committee stopped short of following other countries in ordering the mass closure of schools and banning large public gatherings like sporting events.

In a Downing Street address, Boris Johnson said: "I must level with you, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time."

But speaking to the BBC's Newsnight programme, Mr Hunt said: "I think it is surprising and concerning that we're not doing any of it at all when we have just four weeks before we get to the stage that Italy is at.

"You would have thought that every single thing we do in that four weeks would be designed to slow the spread of people catching the virus."

The senior Tory MP said he was also "personally surprised that we're still allowing external visits to care homes".

Meanwhile, a leading public health expert said the Government had "lost control" of the situation.

John Ashton, former regional director of public health, told Question Time: "I’m embarrassed by the situation in this country. This talk of four stages, and we’re now moving on from the containment thing – we’ve lost the plot here.

"We haven’t taken the action that we should have taken four or five weeks ago.”

He added: "Boris Johnson should have convened Cobra at the outset when it became clear what was cooking up. Countries that took firm action at the time - if you look at what happened in Hong Kong and Singapore, which had a lot of cases initially but which took firm action and they’ve got the thing under control. We’ve lost control here."

But Keith Neal, emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, supported the Government's strategy for dealing with the virus.

He said: "The plans are sensible, it is very easy to say more needs to be done, but there is little evidence to make any decision."

On Thursday evening Boris Johnson spoke to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has gone into self-isolation after his wife was diagnosed with coronavirus.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: "The leaders discussed the need for a co-ordinated international response to the coronavirus outbreak, including through the G7, and agreed on the importance of a science-based approach."

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