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Sat, 24 October 2020

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Labour's Lisa Nandy brands government communication on coronavirus outbreak 'a real shambles'

Labour's Lisa Nandy brands government communication on coronavirus outbreak 'a real shambles'
4 min read

The Government's communication with the public about the coronavirus outbreak has descended into a "real shambles", according to Lisa Nandy.


The Labour leadership contender demanded "much more" information from ministers as she took aim at what she argued were mixed messages on the response to the crisis in recent days.

It emerged this weekend that mass gatherings will soon be curtailed in a bid to halt the spread of the disease, while Health Secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that moves to isolate the elderly and others most at risk will be introduced "in the coming weeks".

But the shift to ban large gatherings came just a day after Boris Johnson told reporters there was "very little medical reason at the moment to ban such events".

Ms Nandy said there was now a "real problem" with the Government's communications strategy.

The Wigan MP told the BBC's Andrew Marr: "You've got [Health Secretary] Matt Hancock on your programme later and he has been out making statements this week, and he is obviously trying his best. 

"But I think even he would accept that the last 48 hours has been a real shambles."

Ms Nandy said: "You have a government who was essentially sending out the chief scientific adviser on Friday morning, saying don't cancel mass events and by Friday evening [it] was briefing the media that they should be cancelled. 

"They said that they have given powers to police and immigration officers to arrest sick people and then they effectively stuck on an out-of-office and went to ground for 24 hours. 

"This is causing serious concern out in the public. People just don't know what to do for the best."

Ms Nandy argued that the official response to the crisis was now leading to people "stockpiling in supermarkets" and debating whether or not to take their children out of school.

And she added: "My message is very clear: there is no reason to panic, but we need far more information from the Government... This is a public health crisis and so the public must have confidence in the strategy the Government is following."

'UTTERLY UNACCEPTABLE'

The attack came as Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth heaped scorn on the way the latest measures had been unveiled - and demanded a fresh public statement from Boris Johnson.

The Labour frontbencher, who has been involved in talks with the Government about a raft of emergency powers set to be unveiled next week, said: "We have to take the public with us on this."

And he told Sky's Sophy Ridge: "It is utterly unacceptable for government sources to be briefing journalists overnight on issues which are very, very fundamental to how we deal with this virus, very fundamental to how our society is going to operate in the coming weeks.

"If things have changed since... the Prime Minister's press conference on Thursday, then really the Prime Minister should be doing another press conference today and explaining why things have changed."

The row came as the Government launched the next stage of an advertising blitz aimed at boosting public awareness of the disease's spread.

New television adverts featuring the chief medical officer and voiced by actor Mark Strong will stress the need for frequent hand-washing and ask those with a high temperature or "new continuous cough" to self-isolate for seven days."

But Ms Nandy said: "We need an information campaign. 

"At the moment the Government is just putting out Gifs saying wash your hands, when just a few months ago we had £104m spent on a Get Ready For Brexit campaign. These things can be done and we need to see much more in the public domain."

'RIGHT THING AT THE RIGHT TIME'

The Health Secretary on Sunday confirmed that the Government would soon publish the scientific advice behind its response to the coronavirus outbreak, amid criticism from some quarters about the speed at which it is moving to bring in of so-called 'social distancing' measures, which are aimed at controlling the spread of the virus.

Critics have contrasted Britain's approach, aimed at reducing the peak of the outbreak to ease the strain on the health service, with other European countries which have already moved to take more draconian steps.

But Mr Hancock told Sky's Sophy Ridge: "Each country is taking measures according to their own circumstances. 

"We're similar to many countries, for instance we're very similar to the approach being taken in Germany and Australia and others. It's about making sure you do the right thing at the right time. We're prepared to take, if we need to, all the sorts of measures that you discussed. But we will do it based on the science."

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