Saturday, 28 March 2020

Why didn't they practise what they preached? Boris Johnson, Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty face accusations they failed to follow their own advice on social distancing as government is mauled over coronavirus testing failures

  • The Prime Minister and Health Secretary were pictured closer than 6ft apart in the Commons in recent days 
  • Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, face of Britain's virus response, revealed he too had symptoms
  • Prof Whitty – who is a consultant doctor – had even advised the Prime Minister in person earlier that evening 
  • Not known whether Prof Whitty examined Mr Johnson, but he's unlikely to have worn protective clothing
Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock faced accusations they had failed to follow their own advice on social distancing after both tested positive for coronavirus.
The Prime Minister and Health Secretary were pictured at close quarters in the Commons in recent days – well within the advised 6ft limit.
Just hours after they confirmed they had the virus, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty, who has been the face of the nation's coronavirus response, revealed he too had symptoms.
Professor Whitty said he would be isolating at home for seven days having experienced symptoms 'compatible' with the disease on Thursday night. 
In fact the Chief Medical Officer – who is also a consultant doctor – had even advised the Prime Minister in person earlier that evening after Mr Johnson complained of coronavirus-like symptoms.
It is not known whether Professor Whitty examined Mr Johnson or took his temperature, but he is unlikely to have been wearing protective clothing.
In another frantic day of developments in the battle against coronavirus: 
  • US President Donald Trump wished Mr Johnson a 'speedy recovery' as the two leaders spoke on the phone;
  • Mr Gove revealed a new alliance between businesses, research institutes and universities will boost testing capacity so NHS workers will know if they have coronavirus with testing starting next week;
  • NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said there are now 33,000 beds available nationwide for coronavirus patients;
  • He also revealed two new Nightingale hospitals will be set up in Birmingham and Manchester in addition to the one in London; 
  •  A council is facing a furious backlash after targeting members of the public with drones, as lawyers warned that police are 'unlawfully' trying to restrict people travelling to isolated spots to exercise and walk their dogs;
  • There are demands for the government to go further to help millions of self-employed after Mr Sunak admitted a bailout for income support will not be up and running until June; 
  • Buckingham Palace has said the Queen remains in 'good health' and has not seen the PM since March 11; 
  • UK supermarkets said they will use a government database of 1.5 million vulnerable shoppers to help prioritise delivery slots.
Boris Johnson pictured within six-foot of Health Secretary Matt Hancock before a press conference at No10 Downing Street on March 12. Both have tested positive for the virus and chief medical officer Chris Whitty, pictured at the top of the stairs, has symptoms
Boris Johnson pictured within six-foot of Health Secretary Matt Hancock before a press conference at No10 Downing Street on March 12. Both have tested positive for the virus and chief medical officer Chris Whitty, pictured at the top of the stairs, has symptoms

Boris Johnson pictured announcing to the UK that he has tested positive for coronavirus in a video shared to social media
Boris Johnson pictured announcing to the UK that he has tested positive for coronavirus in a video shared to social media

The UK saw coronavirus cases jump by 2,921 on Friday, the largest increase so far
The UK saw coronavirus cases jump by 2,921 on Friday, the largest increase so far

A Downing Street spokesman suggested it was unlikely the Chief Medical Officer contracted the disease from the Prime Minister, as the first signs usually take several days to appear.
Duncan Selbie, chief executive of Public Health England, revealed on Thursday he was self-isolating with symptoms, and several Department of Health advisers are also thought to have the virus.
That the virus has infected so many senior figures who are co-ordinating the nation's response will raise concerns policies to contain its spread will be impeded.
A Department of Health source said Professor Whitty only had mild symptoms and would still be coordinating the nation's response in self-isolation at home.
Writing on Twitter yesterday, Professor Whitty said: 'After experiencing symptoms compatible with Covid-19 last night, in line with the guidance, I will be self-isolating at home for the next seven days. I will be continuing to advise the Government on the medical response to coronavirus, supported by my deputies.'
Mr Hancock developed a temperature and sore throat on Wednesday evening – just hours after he had been in close contact with the Prime Minister.
As recently as Wednesday afternoon, he was pictured next to Mr Johnson and Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who is considered more at risk from coronavirus as he has Type 1 diabetes, shortly after Prime Minister's Questions.Mr Johnson, meanwhile, was photographed clapping for NHS staff on Thursday night with Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside Downing Street, when he is likely to have had symptoms, although kept a distance apart.
In recent weeks Mr Johnson has continued to meet his Cabinet and key advisers, including Professor Whitty, while urging the public to work from home wherever possible. Although the Prime Minister and Health Secretary have both tested positive, the Chief Medical Officer has not himself undertaken a test.
Tests are only available to Cabinet ministers if they show symptoms, which raises the possibility that others may have contracted the disease and spread it without realising they were ill.
A spokesman for Mr Sunak, who is not self-isolating, said he has not had any symptoms and therefore has not been tested.
Downing Street has previously confirmed that Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab would stand in if Mr Johnson was too unwell to continue leading the nation.
If Mr Raab also became ill, the Prime Minister has the power to delegate responsibility to any of his ministers.
The government faced a mauling yesterday afternoon after it failed to stop the senior figures in the UK's fight against coronavirus from catching the deadly disease. 
Professor Susan Michie, director of the Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London, told The Sun: 'Whilst the PM was telling people to stay at home and keep at least two metres apart from each other, the House of Commons was open for business and face-to-face parliamentary activities were carrying on.'  
Michael Gove, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, was forced to defend the government's approach to the crisis after it hit hard at the heart of Westminster as he took part in the now daily Number 10 coronavirus press conference. 
It was suggested to Mr Gove that ministers had at best been 'careless' and at worst 'negligent' by allowing the killer bug to infect Mr Johnson and Mr Hancock amid criticism of the government's testing efforts. 
But Mr Gove argued the fact they had caught coronavirus showed it 'does not discriminate' and 'we are all at risk' as he said: 'The fact that the virus is no respecter of individuals, whoever they are, is one of the reasons why we do need to have strict social distancing measures.'
It was announced tonight that all NHS frontline staff will start to be tested next week in a move aimed at boosting the workforce and allow those self-isolating with illnesses other than coronavirus to return to work. 
But Downing Street said senior ministers, officials and aides will only be tested if they develop a fever or persistent cough, despite the two positive tests and Prof Whitty's symptoms.
Mr Gove insisted that was the right approach, telling reporters: 'People are tested if they are symptomatic and those members of the sort of central effort in helping to defeat the virus who do show symptoms are appropriately tested.'  
It came as the UK's coronavirus death toll jumped by a third to 759 after officials announced 181 more victims of the killer infection in the biggest daily rise yet. Health chiefs also confirmed almost 15,000 Britons have now caught the virus. 
The PM is now self-isolating in Number 11 Downing Street but has insisted he will continue to lead the nation's fight against coronavirus with aides leaving work and food at his door for him to pick up. Mr Hancock is also continuing to work as normal from home with both men now reliant on video conferencing.
The government's own guidance states people must self-isolate for 14 days if anyone in their 'household' develops symptoms, but no senior figures, including top adviser Dominic Cummings and Mr Sunak, are thought to be going into isolation. Mr Cummings was seen making a hasty exit from Downing Street today carrying a rucksack. 
Mr Johnson, Mr Hancock and Prof Whitty have been three of the main public figures in the fight against coronavirus so far. 
The fourth main figure, Sir Patrick Vallance, the government's Chief Scientific Adviser, said this afternoon that he had no coronavirus symptoms and had therefore not been tested and 'will continue following guidelines including social distancing and hand washing'.
In his video message posted this morning, Mr Johnson said: 'Hi folks I want to bring you up to speed on something that is happening today which is that I have developed mild symptoms of coronavirus, that is to say a temperature and a persistent cough, and on the advice of the chief medical officer I have taken a test. 
'That has come out positive so I am working from home, I am self isolating. That is entirely the right thing to do but be in no doubt that I can continue thanks to the wizardry of modern technology to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fight back against coronavirus.' 
London is regarded as the engine of the outbreak in the UK, and many at Westminster have been struck down with symptoms.
Health minister Nadine Dorries was the first confirmed MP case, and has since recovered and returned to work. 
Prince Charles was confirmed as infected with coronavirus earlier this week after he too was tested. 
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive, said the tests for staff would initially be focused on those working in intensive care, A&E, GP practices and staff running ambulance services.
Speaking at a press conference at Downing Street, Sir Simon said: 'I can say that today we can announce we will be rolling out staff testing across the NHS, beginning next week and starting with the critical care nurses, other staff in intensive care, emergency departments, ambulance services, GPs.
'And as the testing volumes increase, we want to widen that to a wider range of essential public service workers, including our social care services, as well as continuing of course with our patient testing which is so vital.'
The Government has confirmed the service will be free and would 'help end the uncertainty of whether NHS staff need to stay at home'. 
Those who test negative for coronavirus will be able to return to work, said the Department for Health and Social Care. 
Seb James, UK and Ireland managing director of Boots, said the high street chain would assist in delivering tests but confirmed they would not be done in-store.
'We will work with the NHS to recruit trained professionals - both Boots colleagues and from the wider community,' he said.
'I am sure there will be many trained healthcare clinicians and students who will step forward to support our dedicated NHS colleagues.
'Locations are being defined but will be spread across the UK - they will not however be in Boots stores, allowing our colleagues to focus on supporting our customers and patients.'
Rico Back, the Royal Mail Group's chief executive, said: 'We will safely deliver these vital tests, a key step forward in the nation's battle against the virus.' 
Mr Johnson was outside No10 on Thursday evening alongside Mr Sunak applauding NHS workers who are combating the virus, in a national show of appreciation.
His spokesman said he thought it was 'important' to take part in the NHS clap, and he stayed a 'very significant distance from the Chancellor'. He chaired a remote meeting of the coronavirus 'war cabinet' this morning. 
Mr Johnson took PMQs in the Commons on Wednesday, which could raise fears other politicians have been infected, even though people have been well spaced out in the chamber.
Cabinet on Tuesday was also carried out over video conference.
However, senior officials including Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill were close to the PM in Downing Street for the meeting.  
Number 10 said the advice to staff is they don't need to do anything unless they suspect they have symptoms, and then they should follow isolation guidance.
Asked if the Chancellor or other senior figures have been tested, the PM's spokesman said: 'I am not aware of any further testing.'
'Here in Number 10 we have been observing the advice on social distancing,' the spokesman said. 
Mr Johnson has not taken any of the regular government press conferences this week.
His weekly audience with the Queen, aged 93, was conducted by telephone. A Buckingham Palace spokesman said: 'Her Majesty the Queen remains in good health. The Queen last saw the Prime Minister on the 11th March and is following all the appropriate advice with regards to her welfare.'
On Monday he gave a dramatic address to the nation in which he declared that the country had to go into lockdown, with no-one leaving their houses unless absolutely necessary,
Mr Johnson's fiancee Ms Symonds is pregnant and is thought to have been self-isolating in line with government advice.   
Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty this afternoon said he is experiencing coronavirus symptoms and is now self-isolating
Ms Symonds, 32, who is believed to be six months pregnant with the baby due in the early summer, was last seen in Downing Street over the weekend and is likely to have left to protect herself.
She now faces an anxious wait to see if she has been exposed to coronavirus, with pregnant women more likely to catch an infection than women who are not pregnant. 
The Prime Minister's official spokesman refused to comment on her whereabouts, health or whether she has been tested. 
Good wishes were sent to Mr Johnson from across the political spectrum after his announcement today. 
Mr Trump and Mr Johnson spoke on the phone with the US President wishing the PM a 'speedy recovery' as they 'agreed to work together closely, along with the G7, the G20, and other international partners, to defeat the coronavirus pandemic'.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: 'I wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery and hope his family are safe and healthy. 
'Coronavirus can and does affect anyone. Everyone be safe. Our own health depends on everybody else.' 
Mayor London Sadiq Khan posted: 'Sorry to hear this and hope you feel better soon. Thank you for everything your Government is doing to help us fight this. 
'This is a reminder that anyone can get #COVID19. We must all follow the rules and stay at home to support our amazing NHS staff to save lives.' 
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott tweeted: 'I don't wish anyone ill. I wish the Prime Minister a speedy recovery. I hope everyone in coming days gets the care and medical attention they need.'
Nigel Farage posted: 'Wishing @BorisJohnson well and a very rapid recovery.'
And former chancellor Sajid Javid replied: 'Get well soon. Sending you best wishes from Javid family and Bailey.'
European Council President Charles Michel tweeted: 'Get well soon @BorisJohnson Europe wishes you a speedy recovery. I believe we'll win this fight against #COVID19 together.'
World Health Organisation director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted: 'Please take good care PM @BorisJohnson. I wish you an easy recovery. Thank you for calling on your nation to follow @NHSuk's guidance. Your leadership and commitment to beating the #coronavirus are key to saving lives in.'
The latest coronavirus figures for the UK were published after officials changed the timings of how they counted deaths, with the total declared on Wednesday only taking into account an eight-hour period. Yesterday's shocking figure represented a full 24-hour count. 
The prisoner of Downing St: While Carrie Symonds is in Chequers with Dilyn the dog, Boris Johnson is marooned above the shop, his meals left outside his door - as he juggles a national crisis with anxiety for his unborn child, writes RICHARD KAY
From the plumped up pillows of his king-size bed, through the tall windows above the famous rose garden, he can look down on the vast emptiness of Horse Guards Parade. Closer to home he can see the couriers bringing government papers, the delivery men with their supplies and the to-ing and fro-ing of visitors.
But while there is urgency and vitality all around him, Boris Johnson, locked in the biggest peace time crisis in British history, is now a prisoner of Downing Street – isolated from his loved ones, his ministers and his staff.
Within hours of the diagnosis that he was suffering from coronavirus, the first world leader to contract the illness, the Prime Minister had quarantined himself in the spacious flat above Number 11.
With its five bedrooms, playroom and drawing rooms that lead off the double-height atrium, there is plenty of space.
He, however, is confining himself to a single bedroom with an en-suite bathroom and ground-floor study which – until Thursday night – was the office of Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
The confirmation that Mr Johnson had Covid-19 came at midnight, following a swab test after he complained during the afternoon of 'feeling rough'.
But last night, as the Government response to the pandemic deepened with the news that Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Chief Medical Officer of England Chris Whitty also had the virus, there was frenzy over just how many people the PM had come into contact with.
While the focus was inevitably on those senior aides and ministers working closely with Mr Johnson, there was special concern over two figures – the Queen and the Prime Minister's pregnant fiancĂ©e, Carrie Symonds.
He last saw the Queen, who is at Windsor, on March 11. But with the Prince of Wales also testing positive for Covid-19, royal physicians are understandably edgy.
The whereabouts of Carrie, 32, are not clear, but No10 sources dropped a sizeable hint that she was no longer on the premises when they briefed that the PM would be self-isolating for seven days, rather than the 14 recommended for those sharing their lives with family and friends.
Carrie herself also suggested she had moved out after posting on her Instagram account a photograph of her with the couple's dog Dilyn, a Jack Russell cross, with the caption: 'Self-isolating isn't so bad with this one'.
The picture may have been taken at Chequers, the PM's official residence, or Chevening, in Kent: another government home the couple have used in recent times.
'It would make sense for her to be at one of those addresses,' said an aide. 'There are staff, grounds to stroll in and plenty of fresh air.'
The question is: when did Miss Symonds, whose baby is due in early June, leave Downing Street?
The couple were together last week to celebrate her 32nd birthday, and visited Chequers for part of the day on Saturday.
Even if she was not there when Boris fell ill, the couple will naturally be anxious as Covid-19 seemingly has a typical incubation period of several days. Aides declined to say whether she too had been tested.
For a larger-than-life, hyperactive and gregarious figure like Mr Johnson, the ramifications of the restrictions on his movements will be profound. Ever since the crisis took its deadly grip on the country, No10 has been a bunker on a war-time footing, with staff working round the clock and Boris standing firmly at the helm.
Within minutes of complaining to Professor Whitty that he was feeling unwell, the PM began practising social distancing.
When he and the Chancellor appeared on their respective doorsteps to join the national applause for the NHS on Thursday night, they remained several feet apart.
But when did he go into self-isolation?
The domestic arrangements of the two flats above Numbers 10 and 11 cannot have helped. While Boris works at No10, he uses the flat at No11, just as David Cameron and his family did.
Mr Sunak works from No 11 but because his wife and children have remained at their family home, the accommodation at No10 is empty. It is thought that the PM's self-isolation began after he received the results of his test. 
Immediately, a lockdown began. Interconnecting doors which normally open between No10 and No11 were sealed, and staff were ordered to remain at distance from the Prime Minister.
Yesterday morning, Mr Johnson's breakfast of fresh berries and juice was delivered on a tray to his closed study door by a flunky in gloves and a mask.
Video-conferencing facilities were set up through the night so that Mr Johnson could deliver the news of his own diagnosis to the nation yesterday morning.
And through the same technology he will continue to remain in close contact with officials and the key members of the Cobra emergency committee – Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove, Mr Hancock and Mr Sunak.
Tracing the Prime Minister's social contacts may be a near-impossible task.
There is a vast bureaucracy in and out of Downing Street, and at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons just three days ago, Mr Johnson was seen perilously close to Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, who suffers from Type 1 diabetes.
If the infections at Downing Street worsen – and there is every fear that they will – there is a huge supply of ready meals and other products in the PM's fridge.
Mr Johnson's usual diet of spicy sausages, cheese and red wine, has been supplemented by large quantities of vegan food. The company All Plants has been providing boxes of vegan meals and other vegetables.
Yet the frustration for our energetic PM will not be hunger but confinement – and anxiety over Carrie and the welfare of their unborn child. 
Where did Boris Johnson catch coronavirus… and who did he infect? How PM came into close contact with politicians and health chiefs over past 10 days before testing positive 
Boris Johnson has been in close contact with dozens of politicians and health chiefs over the past ten days before testing positive for coronavirus.
The Prime Minister has been holding press conferences at 10 Downing Street with the likes of Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.
He has also stood near Deputy Chief Medical Officer Jenny Harries, Chief Medical Officer Professor Chris Whitty and Chief Scientific Adviser Patrick Vallance.
The three scientists have appeared at the Downing Street press conferences, and have also been meeting other politicians and civil servants across Westminster. 
While the PM has held Cabinet meetings and discussions with the Queen remotely, he still attended the Commons for Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday.    
Last night Mr Johnson stood outside in Downing Street with Mr Sunak as they both joined in the national clap for NHS staff. They stood distanced from one another.
However a spokesman for Mr Sunak has said he had not had any symptoms and therefore had not been tested for coronavirus and was not self-isolating. 
Going further back, the Prime Minister attended the Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey on March 9 with his pregnant partner Carrie Symonds.
There, the couple spoke to a number of dignitaries and celebrities, and Mr Johnson was photographed shaking hands with boxer Anthony Joshua after the service.
He has also spoken to schoolchildren at No10 on March 5, visited flood defences in Worcestershire on March 8 and been to laboratories on March 1 and March 6. 
Here is a pictorial guide to what Mr Johnson has been doing this month: 
Boris Johnson joins in with a national applause for the NHS outside Downing Street last night
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak outside Downing Street for the applause last night
Boris Johnson in the study of 10 Downing Street on a video call to other G20 leaders yesterday
Boris Johnson on the phone in his office in Downing Street to Queen Elizabeth II on Wednesday
Boris Johnson speaks during his first remote news conference on coronavirus on Wednesday
Boris Johnson returns to 10 Downing Street from Prime Minister's Questions on Wednesday
Boris Johnson speaks at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday
Boris Johnson visits a laboratory at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, North London, on March 1
Boris Johnson visits a laboratory at the Public Health England National Infection Service in Colindale, North London, on March 1

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