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'Allegations are wrong'

Government issues detailed rebuttal of paper’s claims

The newspaper is accused of a series of factual errors

Government ministers have mounted a full-blown defence of their handling of the coronavirus pandemic in a rare word-by-word rebuttal of claims in The Sunday Times.

The newspaper made a series of damning allegations including an accusation that the Prime Minister failed to attend key meetings to discuss the health emergency.

But in a long and detailed rebuttal, the Department of Health and Social Care said the article contained “a series of falsehoods and errors”.

Earlier, Cabinet Secretary Michael Gove described the claims against the Prime Minister as “grotetesque”.

In a statement issued on Sunday evening, the department said the article “actively misrepresents” the enormous amount of work which was going on in government at the earliest stages of the Coronavirus outbreak.

The department said that faced with an unprecedented global pandemic “we have taken the right steps at the right time to combat it, guided at all times by the best scientific advice.”

It added: “The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.

Michael Gove

Michael Gove: ‘grotesque claims’

“Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support it needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.

“The Prime Minister has been at the helm of the response to this, providing leadership during this hugely challenging period for the whole nation.”

On the specific claim about Mr Johnson’s absence from Cobra meetings, the department said previous Cobra meetings over the years had been chaired by departmental heads.

It said: “It is entirely normal and proper for COBR to be chaired by the relevant Secretary of State.

“Then Health Secretary Alan Johnson chaired COBR in 2009 during H1N1. Michael Gove chaired COBR as part of No Deal planning. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps chaired COBR during the collapse of Thomas Cook. Mr Hancock was in constant communication with the PM throughout this period.”

It also rejected claims that No10 “played down the looming threat” from Coronavirus and displayed an “almost nonchalant attitude…for more than a month.”

The department said: “The suggestion that the government’s attitude was nonchalant is wrong. Extensive and detailed work was going on in government because of Coronavirus.”

The Sunday Times claimed the government sent 279,000 items of its depleted stockpile of protective equipment to China during this period in response to a request for help from the authorities there.

The department said the equipment was not from the pandemic stockpile. Britain provided this equipment to China at the height of its need and China has since reciprocated “many times over”. Between 2-15 April the UK has received over 12 million pieces of PPE from China.

It was also claimed that little was done to equip the National Health Service for the coming crisis in this period.

This is also dismissed as “wrong”. The department said the NHS has responded well to Coronavirus, and has provided treatment to everyone in critical need.

“We have constructed the new Nightingale hospitals and extended intensive care capacity in other hospitals.”

Former Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: “I don’t think I can remember such a detailed, point by point rebuttal from HMG on a news story, ever.”

Full response from the Department Health and Social Care

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