"We've wasted three weeks": Former public health chief slams government's coronavirus response

3 March 2020, 13:41 | Updated: 3 March 2020, 14:57

By Fiona Jones

The former Faculty of Public Health chief John Ashton slammed the government's response to coronavirus.

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK has risen to 51 and Boris Johnson has announced it could lead to a fifth of workers being absent and cause the police to drop low-priority cases.

"What's frustrating to me is that we've wasted three weeks," Professor John Ashton said.

"Really what Boris Johnson should have done three weeks ago was to convene Cobra himself with the Chief Medical Officer and start looking ahead on a daily or alternate daily basis to see what would happen next.

"And share that information fully with the public in a transparent way, which is what they've been doing in Bahrain, instead of reaching a situation this weekend where we appear to be in panic stations and suddenly you've got conflicting views.

"You've got claims being made that we're very well prepared and the NHS will cope - but actually what we know about the scale is that we'll have to change tack if we get tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of cases. There's absolutely no way the NHS can admit all the people who wouldn't normally be admitted.

"We've got to really embrace a community approach to this and going back in a way to before the NHS when people cared for people at home."

Professor Aston emphasised the Prime Minister should have involved the public sooner in a national conversation as the public will now have to make their own plans; Easter holidays are approaching so citizens need travel advice and small businesses and eateries need to prepare for the prospect of no one leaving the house.