Piers Morgan grills Matt Hancock after government 'boycott' of GMB

48 mins read

Piers Morgan has grilled the Health Secretary over the apparent cabinet ‘boycott’ of Good Morning Britain and demanded to know why he had not resigned over the ‘constant series of failures and U-turns’.

Piers suggested the driving force behind banning ministers from appearing on GMB was ex-communications boss at Downing Street Lee Cain, who last week left with Dominic Cummings.

He branded both Cummings and Cain ‘boneheaded little twerps’, announcing that ‘the 201-day government boycott on GMB has been dramatically ended’ as Mr Hancock appeared on the programme.

Before Mr Hancock’s interview began, the GMB presenters mused on what might had changed for them to secure a first ministerial interview since April. 

Mr Morgan said: ‘Is it those two little sewer rats Cummings and Cain being thrown out of Downing Street? Oh, what a coincidence.’

The Health Secretary’s appearance brought to an end a 201-day stretch without a Government minister joining the breakfast TV show for an interview. 

Piers started the interview by saying: ‘Good morning to you, Health Secretary. First question: given that we live in a democracy, where the hell have you all been for the past 201 days?’ 

In other coronavirus developments today:

  • Boris Johnson insisted he can run the country by Zoom as he hit back at criticism of a mask-free meeting with a coronavirus-infected Tory MP that has forced him to self-isolate for a fortnight;
  • More than 250 NHS workers and care home staff have joined an ‘anti-vaxxer’ group that compares Pfizer’s Covid jab to ‘poison’ and is opposed to wearing masks;
  • Mr Hancock claimed Britain is ‘working very closely’ with Pfizer to roll out the drug giant’s breakthrough vaccine from the start of December;
  • Coronavirus was circulating in Italy as early as September 2019 — months before the disease was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan, a study by the National Cancer Institute of Milan has suggested;
  • International flights between Australia and the UK will only resume when a vaccine starts being rolled out, Qantas boss Alan Joyce claimed;
  • Baby boomers who missed out on holidays, sport and seeing friends during lockdown spent the money they saved on alcohol instead, according to psychiatrists. 
Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid interviewed the Health Secretary Matt Hancock today

Piers Morgan and Susanna Reid interviewed the Health Secretary Matt Hancock today 


Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street on Friday) has been forced to self isolate after coming into contact with MP Lee Anderson who tested positive for Covid-19

Boris Johnson (pictured leaving Downing Street on Friday) has been forced to self isolate after coming into contact with MP Lee Anderson who tested positive for Covid-19

Boris Johnson today insisted he can run the country by Zoom as he hit back at criticism of a mask-free meeting with a coronavirus-infected Tory MP that has forced him to self-isolate for a fortnight.

In a video posted from his Downing Street flat, the PM said he was ‘fit as a butcher’s dog’ and ‘bursting with antibodies’ but was following Test & Trace rules after standing close to Ashfield MP Lee Anderson last week. 

A gang of Tories who were at the gathering – Lia Nici, Andy Carter, Brendan Clarke-Smith and Katherine Fletcher – have also signalled they are in quarantine. 

The dramatic development has thrown the government into fresh chaos, with infighting still raging after the ousting of maverick chief aide Dominic Cummings and communications director Lee Cain on Friday following a power struggle with Carrie Symonds.

Mr Johnson had hoped to launch a ‘reset’ of his premiership to claw back support from mutinous Tory MPs, furious about the handling of the coronavirus response and clumsy, damaging U-turns on issues such as free school meals during school holidays.

Crucially this afternoon the PM had been due to meet Tories representing the northern ‘Red Wall’ of former Labour seats that delivered his historic election majority, but will now have to do the session via video link.

He is also due to unveil a long-awaited ten-point environment plan later this week, an agenda that has been championed by his fiancee Ms Symonds, including banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in 2030 instead of 2040.

Meanwhile, the Brexit trade negotiations are at a critical stage, with just days to reach an agreement in time for the end of the transition period and fears the UK is about to cave in to EU demands on fishing and state aid rules.

Reviewing the last six months, Piers reeled off a ‘charge sheet’ that he said revealed a ‘constant series of failures and U-turns throughout this year’.

These ranged from the lack of personal protective equipment for health workers to the delay in introducing the first lockdown, allowing 20 million people to fly into the UK and the ‘complete shambles’ of the Government’s testing system  

Piers said: ‘Given that we now have over 50,000 deaths in this country, which is the worst death toll in the whole of Europe, why are you still Health Secretary, and why haven’t you offered your resignation?’ 

Mr Hancock said: ‘Well it’s very nice to hear your voice again, Piers, Susanna. Well last week you asked me to – I was on, actually, albeit briefly – and you asked me to come back as soon as diaries would allow and here I am.’

Piers Morgan blasted Mr Hancock  saying that the country had a lack of PPE, ill people being sent into care homes and the Government initially saying that the public did not need to wear masks. 

Piers also asked Mr Hancock whether he ‘supported the boycott’ – saying that there had been no cabinet minister on GMB for more than six months.

The Health Secretary said: ‘We haven’t been away I’ve been on, working incredibly hard for instance building the sort of testing capacity… making progress on the vaccine which is really good.’

Piers Morgan went on to ask why Mr Hancock had not resigned.  

Mr Hancock said: ‘Well because we’ve been building the response to all of these enormous challenges of this unprecedented pandemic.

‘The first thing is, on testing, we’ve hit each of the targets that I’ve set – half a million tests a day capacity now, and I’m here to tell you that we’re going to double that over the next few months, and that means that we can use testing in order to find where the virus is.

‘And crucially, we got those turnaround times down so that people can get the result back faster and then can isolate if needed.’ 

Piers Morgan asked whether Mr Hancock was prepared to admit to any mistakes – to which the Health Secretary responded: ‘Sure, of course, we’ve made mistakes, absolutely.

‘When we first put out the guidance for funerals in the first peak it was interpreted as being so tight that even your spouse couldn’t go to the funeral of somebody who’d died of coronavirus.

‘Now, that was wrong, and we changed it. Absolutely, we’ve been learning.’

The GMB host also asked why the Government does not publish the number of people who are tested each day, compared to the number of individual tests carried out.  

Mr Hancock said: 'Well it's very nice to hear your voice again, Piers, Susanna. Well last week you asked me to - I was on, actually, albeit briefly - and you asked me to come back as soon as diaries would allow and here I am.'

Mr Hancock said: ‘Well it’s very nice to hear your voice again, Piers, Susanna. Well last week you asked me to – I was on, actually, albeit briefly – and you asked me to come back as soon as diaries would allow and here I am.’

Piers suggested the driving force behind banning ministers from appearing on GMB was ex-communications boss at Downing Street Lee Cain, who last week left with Dominic Cummings

Dominic Cummings outside his north London home

Piers suggested the driving force behind banning ministers from appearing on GMB was ex-communications boss at Downing Street Lee Cain, who last week left with Dominic Cummings 


The group is reported to include Sheffield-based GP Julie Coffey (pictured), A&E nurses, healthcare assistants and lab workers

The group is reported to include Sheffield-based GP Julie Coffey (pictured), A&E nurses, healthcare assistants and lab workers

More than 250 NHS workers and care home staff have joined an ‘anti-vaxxer’ group that compares the Pfizer jab to ‘poison’ and is opposed to wearing masks.

NHS Workers for Choice, No Restrictions for Declining a Vaccine is also against testing in hospitals and has surged in membership in the past month.

The group is reported to include Sheffield-based GP Julie Coffey, A&E nurses, healthcare assistants and lab workers.

But it has been slapped with a warning label telling people to visit the NHS website for advice.

It comes after a survey found four out of five Britons want those who spread fake news about vaccines to face prosecution.

Meanwhile hopes of another successful jab are soaring after scientists today began a trial to test it on 6,000 people in the UK.

Referring to an April tweet from Boris Johnson’s account that said the Government would be testing 100,000 people a day by the end of the month, Piers asked if that target had been missed, given that figures of the numbers of tests are published, not the number of people who have been tested.

Mr Hancock said: ‘The target was set to have 100,000 tests a day and we delivered against that.’

Piers asked Mr Hancock whether it was ‘morally conscionable’ that health workers may have to pay hospital parking charges after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The health secretary said: ‘There are not those charges now. And there will not be during this pandemic. Once the pandemic is over, then we will no doubt return to this question.’

Mr Hancock was also asked if he would like to ‘rethink’ the support he expressed for Mr Cummings when he faced scrutiny over a trip to County Durham during the first lockdown.

The health secretary responded: ‘I’m not going to get into that, what I care about is the future.’

Wrapping up the interview Mr Morgan said to Mr Hancock: ‘We appreciate you coming back on the programme, and we hope it’s not six months before we see you again.’

Mr Hancock replied: ‘Lovely to be on.’

‘He said, lying, nice to see you,’ Mr Morgan joked.

In the same GMB interview today, Susanna Reid struggled to hold back tears as she told the heartbreaking story of a mother who had been prevented from seeing her severely autistic son due to restrictions on care home visits.

The mother, called Suzanne, wrote in a letter on Facebook: ‘My son is severely autistic, he lives in a care home. He’s distraught he can’t see me or come home to visit.’

As she began to read the message Reid’s voice broke and she said ‘sorry’ before doctor Hilary Jones took over.

Co-host Piers explained the boy was 26 and did not understand why he had only been able to see his mother twice since February.

Government guidelines prevent care homes from allowing physical contact between family apart from in exceptional circumstances.

Currently visits can go ahead only under ‘prison-style’ conditions, with families separated by windows or floor-to-ceiling screens.

A postcode lottery means visiting policies differ around the UK, with some councils imposing blanket bans.

The ban affects thousands of elderly people, many with dementia, but teenagers and young adults with special needs have been hit too. Some have not seen either family or friends since lockdown was first imposed in March.

A testing debacle, a U-turn on face masks and brutal rows over PPE shortages and lockdown: How Britain’s approach to tackling coronavirus crisis has been behind rest of the world at almost EVERY step

The UK’s initial response to the Wuhan outbreak 

Coronavirus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December with the outbreak quickly spiralling in just a matter of weeks. 

Beijing took the unprecedented decision to put the city into a strict state of lockdown on January 23. 

World Health Organisation officials have said that all major governments were made aware by the end of January of how serious the situation could become. 

But the UK Government’s focus was largely on Britain’s long-awaited departure from the European Union which finally took place on January 31 after years of bitter political wrangling. 

Mr Johnson delivered a major speech in Greenwich on February 3 in which he set out his vision for post-Brexit Britain. 

But coronavirus had started to creep into the political mainstream as Mr Johnson made clear his view on Wuhan-style lockdowns. 

He said: ‘We are starting to hear some bizarre autarkic rhetoric, when barriers are going up, and when there is a risk that new diseases such as coronavirus will trigger a panic and a desire for market segregation that go beyond what is medically rational to the point of doing real and unnecessary economic damage…’

No10 told MailOnline that the Government started to act ‘as soon as it was alerted to a potential outbreak’, with initial work starting before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic on 11 March.

They added: ‘Mr Hancock was first alerted to Covid 19 on 3 January and spoke to Departmental officials on 6 Jan before receiving written advice from the UK Health Security Team.

‘He brought the issue to the attention of the Prime Minister and they discussed Covid 19 on 7 January. The Health Secretary continued to update the Prime Minister on a regular basis.

‘The government’s scientific advisory groups started to meet in mid-January. Sage met on 22 January but the first New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group NERVTAG meeting was held on 13 January.

‘The Health Secretary instituted daily meetings to grip the emerging threat. We have taken the right steps at the right time guided by the scientific evidence at all times.’

The Wuhan airlift 

As soon as the Chinese city was put into a state of lockdown the UK government faced questions about bringing back British citizens. 

Both the US and Japan managed to airlift some of their citizens from the city on January 29. 

But the first charter flight heading to the UK did not leave Wuhan until January 31 after being delayed due to China failing to grant permission to take off.

Meanwhile, people due to get onto the flight were only given five hours notice to get to the plane despite the city being in lockdown.

When the 83 British evacuees arrived back in the UK at RAF Brize Norton they were then taken by bus to a facility at Arrowe Park Hospital, Wirral. 

But the Government faced a backlash after the bus drivers tasked with transporting the people to the site 172 miles away were not provided with protective equipment. 

It was not until February 4 that the Foreign Office advised all Britons to leave China if they were able to.  

A motorcade of coaches containing British citizens flown out of Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, where they were quarantined, at the end of January

A motorcade of coaches containing British citizens flown out of Wuhan arrive at Arrowe Park Hospital in Wirral, where they were quarantined, at the end of January

Downing St responded by saying that they used enhanced monitoring at UK border points to identify symptomatic travellers from high risk areas early and safely triage them into the health system.

‘This was applied to those returning from Wuhan on 22 January and broadened to the whole of China on 25 January; Japan on 8 February, Iran on 25 February, Northern Italy on 4 March and the whole of Italy on 5 March.

‘Once there was significant transmission within the UK, the scientific advice was that border restrictions would have a very marginal impact on the number of cases of coronavirus within the UK, as at that point they contributed a tiny proportion of the number of new infections.

‘In the minutes of the SAGE meeting of the 23rd March, SAGE reiterates its previous advice that closing borders would have a negligible effect on the spread of the virus.’ 

Abandoning routine testing

During the early weeks of the outbreak the UK was routinely testing people with coronavirus symptoms and attempting to trace their contacts to stop the spread of the disease. 

But the Government abandoned routine testing on March 12 as Mr Johnson told the nation that anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should self-isolate at home for a week.      

The decision to shift away from testing was blamed on a lack of domestic capacity while Government experts also suggested checks were no longer an ‘appropriate intervention’ because of the scale of the spread of the disease. 

However, as the UK outbreak surged, the Government was forced into a U-turn as Health Secretary Matt Hancock announced on April 2 a new ‘five pillar’ plan to boost testing capacity.

The UK’s decision to ditch testing seemingly went against World Health Organisation advice, with the body having said that the key to fighting the disease was to ‘test, test, test’.

Effective test and trace regimes have been critical to the success of other countries like South Korea and Germany in keeping their death rates much lower than the UK.  

The decision to abandon routine testing is now seen by many experts as one of the main reasons why the UK has one of the worst death tolls in the world. 

No10 denied that contact tracing had ever been abandoned, saying it ‘has been used throughout the COVID19 response’.

‘At the start of the outbreak, tracing the contacts of every case helped to delay community transmission and bought time for the NHS and country to prepare, ultimately helping save lives,’ said a spokesperson.

‘When we moved from the initial containment phase, the focus switched to using stay at home measures for everyone other than essential workers to stop the spread of the virus.

‘Contact tracing did not stop, but it focused on specific settings such as care homes or prisons where there was greatest risk of local outbreaks.

‘As SAGE set out in the minutes of its 13 March meeting “this will increase the pace of testing (and delivery of results) for intensive care units, hospital admissions, targeted contact tracing for suspected clusters of cases and healthcare workers”.

‘As we move into the next phase of our response, where incidence of the virus is lower and lockdown measures start to be eased, it now needs to play a much greater role. We have successfully launched the NHS Test and Trace, a service to help identify, contain and control coronavirus, reduce the spread of the virus and save lives.

‘Backed by the rapid expansion of testing across the country and 25,000 dedicated contact tracers, we are now able to offer anyone with symptoms of the virus a test, and trace the contacts of those testing positive to prevent further transmission.

‘Those with symptoms and their close contacts must follow advice to self-isolate, to protect others from the virus and to allow the safe and gradual lifting of lockdown.

‘Social distancing has helped us to reduce the reproduction rate of the virus (R), meaning it is now possible to test every suspected case and, if they test positive, trace any close recent contacts they have to stop the spread of the virus further.’ 

Inadequate testing capacity 

The dramatic shift in approach on testing was best illustrated on April 2 as Mr Hancock set a target of hitting 100,000 daily tests carried out by the end of the month. 

When the announcement was made approximately 10,000 tests were being done every day with the Government then scrambling in the weeks that followed to ramp up capacity. 

In contrast, South Korea was capable of testing 20,000 people a day by the start of March while Germany was managing 15,000 by the middle of March.

UK ministers faced intense criticism for failing to seek help from the private sector, particularly from smaller firms, quickly enough.

Experts argued that small laboratories could be put to work to process swab tests and help to hit the target. 

The push was likened to the ‘little ships’ which helped during the Dunkirk evacuation in the Second World War. 

But the Government was accused of failing to act on offers of help when they were first made which meant the UK was always struggling to gain ground.

The slow uptake of the offers was blamed by some in Whitehall on Public Health England’s alleged ‘control freakery’ but ministers did eventually U-turn and seek support from small labs. 

Mr Hancock then claimed victory at the end of April as he said the target had been hit only for it to emerge that the Government had included postal kits in the figures on the day they were sent out rather than when they were processed.

Mr Johnson admitted at the end of May during an appearance in front of the Liaison Committee that the UK’s testing capability was underpowered at the start of the outbreak because the ‘brutal reality’ was Britain did not ‘learn the lessons’ of previous pandemics.

A Government spokesperson said: ‘In the early stages we rightly prioritised those with a medical need and healthcare workers.

‘From the outset, we have acknowledged the need to increase our testing capacity, having started from a low base and we have done so reaching over 200,000 tests per day by the end of May. Our approach has meant that everyone with symptoms now has access to rapid, free testing.’

Antigen versus antibody tests

When Mr Hancock made his 100,000 tests pledge it is thought he was expecting some of that number to be made up of antibody tests.

Antibody tests show if someone has had coronavirus while the more laborious antigen tests show if someone currently has it. 

Mr Johnson said on March 19 that the Government was in negotiations to buy ‘game changer’ antibody tests. 

But it subsequently emerged that none of the antibody tests were accurate enough to be rolled out, meaning Mr Hancock was totally reliant on ramping up antigen testing to hit his target.     

The UK then had to try to get millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money back for the antibody tests it had already agreed to purchase, with reports suggesting Britain had paid two Chinese companies an estimated £16 million for two million tests which could not be used. 

No10 claimed they have signed contracts for over 10 million antibody tests from Roche and Abbott that are expected in the coming months

‘All NHS and care staff in England will be offered a test, with patients and care residents eligible at their clinician’s request,’ they said.

‘In the 24 hours to 9am this morning there were 40,385 antibody tests carried out. There have now been 194,467 antibody tests completed on NHS staff and patients.’ 

A furious row over PPE shortages  

A row over shortages of personal protective equipment for NHS and care staff dominated April as ministers were told a lack of gowns, masks and gloves was putting the lives of frontline workers at risk. 

Ministers scrambled to buy up equipment from all over the world as they insisted there was not a national shortage of PPE. 

However, they did concede there may have been localised instances of hospitals and care homes not having enough equipment.  

Ministers were keen to trumpet their apparent successes as pressure grew with the Government announcing in the middle of April that a deal had been done to fly in a massive order of equipment from Turkey. 

However, the shipment descended into farce as delivery was delayed only for it to later emerge at the start of May that 400,000 gowns were still sitting in a UK warehouse because they did not meet British safety standards.

The Government responded by saying they have handed out 1.65 billion pieces of PPE during the pandemic, including 14 million items yesterday. 

A spokesperson said: ‘As restrictions are carefully eased – when it is safe to do so – it’s likely that we will see more people needing to use public transport

‘That’s why from 15 June it will become mandatory to wear a face covering on public transport

‘Social distancing remains the most important way to reduce the spread of the virus, but on public transport where it is not always possible to follow the guidance consistently, these changes will make sure passengers benefit from the additional protection face coverings can offer and help to keep frontline staff and fellow passengers safe.’  

400,000 gowns ordered by the UK from Turkey are now sitting in a warehouse after inspectors deemed them useless

400,000 gowns ordered by the UK from Turkey are now sitting in a warehouse after inspectors deemed them useless

A U-turn on wearing face coverings 

The wearing of face masks has become a common sight across the globe with a raft of countries steadily making the coverings compulsory on public transport and in situations where social distancing is not possible since the middle of March. 

New York made its decision on April 15, in Germany it was April 22, in France it was May 11 and in South Korea it was May 26. 

Vietnam made face masks compulsory in public on March 16 while the Czech Republic was the first European nation to make the move on March 18. 

The scientific community has been split on how effective face coverings are with the World Health Organisation still recommending that only two groups of people should wear them: Those who are sick and those who are caring for someone with coronavirus. 

However, experts are increasingly leaning toward the notion that something is better than nothing. 

A University of Oxford study published on March 30 concluded that surgical masks are just as effective at preventing respiratory infections as N95 masks for doctors, nurses and other health care workers.

For much of the outbreak the UK Government said it was assessing the evidence on wearing face masks as it delayed recommending they be worn. 

Number 10’s experts suggested that wearing face coverings may only provide a very small benefit.  

Eventually on April 30 Mr Johnson said face coverings could be ‘useful’ as lockdown was eased but wearing them was voluntary. 

The Government announced the wearing of face masks will be made compulsory on public transport from June 15 with some experts querying why it has taken Britain so long to make the move. 

Slow action on protecting care homes 

Ministers have faced repeated claims of treating the care sector like a ‘second class citizen’ during the outbreak when compared to the NHS. 

The Government has also faced accusations of unsafely discharging care home residents from hospitals back to care settings before coronavirus testing was widespread, risking outbreaks. 

Official statistics showed that between March 2 and May 1 there were more than 12,000 deaths in care homes where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificates amid fears the true number is likely to be much higher.

Mr Johnson was skewered on the issue in the middle of May by Sir Keir Starmer after the Labour leader quoted official guidance that had been in place until March 12 – well after coronavirus had started being transmitted in the UK – which said ‘it remains very unlikely that people receiving care in a care home or the community will become infected’. 

Sir Keir said during PMQs that the advice showed the Government had been ‘too slow to protect people in care homes’.

Mr Johnson replied that ‘it wasn’t true’ to say the advice said that. He later refused to apologise and accused Sir Keir of quoting selectively from the guidance.

Amid growing pressure over the approach to the care sector, Mr Hancock then announced on May 15 that all care home residents and staff will be tested for coronavirus by ‘early June’. Critics asked why testing had not been ramped up earlier. 

No10 responded saying: ‘The Government has been working since the beginning of the outbreak to seek to minimise the rate of infection in care homes.

‘We put in place a policy to ensure all people are tested when being discharged from hospitals into care homes and we have allocated £1.3 billion of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process. We expect local authorities to work together with the NHS to put this approach into practice.

‘As a result of this – and the work of so many people across the NHS and social care sector – two thirds of England’s care homes have had no outbreak at all. The NHS is responsible for testing these specific patients, in advance of timely discharge to care home settings.

‘We have allocated £1.3 billion of additional funding to enhance the NHS discharge process, getting patients who no longer need urgent treatment home from hospitals safely and quickly. On 2nd April we recommended symptomatic residents discharged from hospital were kept in isolation for 14 days.

‘From 15th April, all patients were tested prior to discharge to a care home, with responsibility given to councils to identify alternative accommodation.

‘A small number of people may be discharged from the NHS within the 14-day period from the onset of COVID-19 symptoms needing ongoing social care. They will have been COVID-19 tested and have confirmed COVID-19 status. Some care providers will be able to accommodate these individuals through effective isolation strategies or cohorting policies.

‘We’ve announced a new £600m Infection Control Fund for care homes to tackle the spread of Covid-19. This is part of a support package that will help deploy NHS staff to offer clinical support and assist with restricting staff to work in only one care home. This comes on top of the £3.2 billion we made available in March and April, and the £712 million we’ve made available to the devolved authorities.

‘We have built the largest diagnostic testing industry in British history from scratch and all care home staff and residents can now be tested, whether they have symptoms or not, with tens of thousands already tested.’ 

Announcing lockdown later than European neighbours 

Mr Johnson put the UK into a state of coronavirus lockdown on March 23 as people were told they could only leave the house for food, medicine, exercise once a day or to get to work if they could not work from home. 

Up to that point the Government’s main coronavirus advice to combat the spread of the disease had been for people to wash their hands more often than normal.  

His decision to impose draconian restrictions on daily life came later than a number of the UK’s European neighbours which had already chosen to act. 

For example, a lockdown in France came into effect on March 17 while in Spain it was even earlier on March 14. 

The UK Government has always insisted its decisions have been guided by the latest scientific and expert advice.  

Official data shows that adherence to the lockdown measures in the UK has been high but the Government has faced accusations of causing confusion as the four Home Nations ease measures at different rates with England taking the most aggressive approach and Scotland being most cautious.

The Government defended their decision, saying: ‘Countries report statistics in different ways so it is not possible to make like-for-like comparisons, however, other major European countries implemented lockdown measures at a similar point in the curve of the epidemic to the UK.

‘This is an unprecedented global pandemic and we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it in the UK, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.’   

Social distancing

Advice to remain two metres apart from other people when outside has been a central plank of the Government’s coronavirus response, having first been announced by the PM on March 12. 

But that message risked being undermined after it emerged that scientists were urging the government to tell people to stop shaking hands the same day Mr Johnson was boasting about shaking hands with ‘everybody’.

Records released on May 5 showed a SAGE sub-committee on March 3 concluded that ‘Government should advise against greetings such as shaking hands and hugging, given existing evidence about the importance of hand hygiene’.

However, that evening Mr Johnson told a press conference in Downing Street that he ‘continued to shake hands’ and the important thing was washing them.   

He said: ‘I was at a hospital the other night where I think there were a few coronavirus patients and I shook hands with everybody, you will be pleased to know, and I continue to shake hands.’

Critics have also argued that adherence to social distancing rules and wider lockdown restrictions had undoubtedly been undermined by a row over Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham.

A Downing Street spokesperson said: ‘The PM set out on many occasions that he made the decision at the time as a general principle to continue shaking hands with additional precautions including frequent hand washing. He also frequently used social media to urge the public to follow guidance on measures to reduce the spread.’

Foreign travel ban 

On March 12 Donald Trump announced sweeping travel restrictions on 26 European countries in a bid to stop the spread of the disease in the US. 

The US President banned travellers from EU states from going to the US. The UK and Ireland were initially not included before the restrictions were then ramped up. 

It was not until March 17 when the UK government took action as the Foreign Office announced it was advising against all non-essential international travel with the restrictions coming into force immediately. 

Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds speak with heavyweight boxer Anthony Joshua at the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on Commonwealth Day on March 9

Failing to impose tough border control measures 

While the Government did impose a ban on non-essential international travel it did not completely close the UK’s borders which meant people were still able to come into the country from abroad – even from coronavirus hotspots. 

Statistics published in May showed that just 273 out of 18.1 million people who arrived in the UK in the three months before the coronavirus lockdown were placed into quarantine.

Even after lockdown there have still been hundreds of thousands people arriving in the UK every month. 

Ministers were repeatedly criticised over a lack of screening at airports for people coming back to the UK, particularly during the early weeks of the outbreak, amid fears Britain was importing new cases. 

The Government subsequently argued that tough restrictions at the border would have had little effect because of the increasing domestic rate of transmission.

Ministers are now planning to introduce 14 day quarantine periods for returning travellers from June 8 prompting questions over why the move was not taken right at the start of the outbreak.

A No10 spokesperson said: ‘Imported cases matter most when the UK has a low level of infection. When domestic transmission is high, imported cases represent a small amount of the total and make no significant difference to the epidemic.

‘As the UK moves to a situation where domestic transmission is much lower, imported cases could become a higher proportion of the overall number of infections. Requiring arrivals to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days will reduce the risk of transmission from this group.

‘Now that domestic transmission is decreasing, it is the right time to prepare new measures at the border to protect us from imported cases and the risk of a second wave of infections from those arriving here.

‘As the Prime Minister has set out, those arriving in the UK from overseas will be required to self-isolate.’

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