Rory Stewart calls for school closures as he condemns government's coronavirus response
Rory Stewart has called on the Government to announce the immediate closure of the country's schools as he attacked Boris Johnson's "half-hearted" response to the coronavirus outbreak.
The former Cabinet minister said ministers had made "a serious mistake" by refusing to introduce stricter measures for tackling the deadly disease.
He said "medium and large gatherings" of people should be cancelled, and that visitors to the UK from coronavirus "hotspots" should be tested and quarantined.
Mr Stewart spoke out as it was confirmed that a fourth person in the UK had died from the flu-like illness, with 319 positive diagnoses.
A meeting of the Government's emergency Cobra committee on Monday decided to maintain the current response to the crisis, rather than follow the lead of other European countries in banning large gatherings of people and ordering school closures.
But Mr Stewart, the former International Development Secretary who challenged for the Tory leadership last summer and is now running to be London mayor, said: "The Government has made a serious mistake today. They should be acting much more aggressively to contain Coronavirus.
"Schools should be shut now. If the Government are not prepared to shut them now, they should - at the very least - state clearly and transparently what their triggers will be for closing schools over the next few days.
"All medium and large gatherings should be cancelled. All passengers coming from hotspots should be tested and quarantined. There is no excuse for passengers not being tested off a plane from Milan last night.
"There is no justification for half-hearted measures. The Government and the mayor keep saying they are simply following 'scientific advice'. But the scientists are clear that this is now a political decision - on whether the Government are prepared to spend very serious sums of money, and take a large economic hit, to maximise protection of the population.
"China shows both the dangers of acting too slowly - at first - and then the benefits of acting decisively. We should have no regrets about spending money to do the absolute maximum to prevent the spread of this disease."
His comments are the latest sign that the fragile political truce over the crisis is at breaking point.
Earlier, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said the Government needed to "get a grip" of the situation.