The three men leading the United Kingdom’s response to the coronavirus pandemic — Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Health Secretary Matt Hancock and the chief medical officer, Chris Whitty — are doing so from quarantine after coming down with COVID-19 symptoms, and receiving strong criticism for not better protecting themselves from the disease.
As cases continue to surge in the country, reaching 14,754 on Saturday, with 761 deaths and just 151 recovered, Johnson and his leadership is being faulted for failing to follow the advice given to the public over how to contain the virus through social distancing.
Johnson and Hancock said on Friday they tested positive for the virus. Whitty reported symptoms and went into self-isolation.
Public health experts accused Johnson of being “nonchalant” and “slow” to behave appropriately as the bug swept over the UK, the Guardian reported.
He was accused of failing to keep an appropriate distance from other senior figures in public, and for continuing with parliamentary duties last week, raising the possibility that he may have infected others in the nation’s cabinet and beyond.
“Those in leadership positions should practice what they preach,” said Susan Michie, director of the center for behavior change at University College London.
“If leaders do not adhere to their own recommendations, this undermines trust in them, which in turn can undermine the population’s adherence to their advice.”
Both Johnson and Hancock were in repeated contact with other senior political figures, including cabinet members and advisers, in the last few days.
No other ministers would be tested for the virus unless they showed symptoms, officials said. Other people who work in 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence and workspace, are self-isolating after showing symptoms.
Johnson received the result of his test hours after he was seen outside the door of Downing Street cheering in support of National Health Service workers alongside NHS Chancellor Rishi Sunak.
Johnson’s spokesman said the prime minister felt it was important to take part “in that national moment” but said he stood outside “a very significant distance from the chancellor.”
“The government has been too slow to act on this, and they’ve been slow as individuals,” said Dr. John Ashton, a former regional director of Public Health England.
“It reinforces the view that lockdown measures taken earlier this week should have been taken sooner, and raises questions about the ability of people in power, including the prime minister, to discipline themselves. They should all have been more careful.”
The prime minister’s spokesman would not comment on whether his partner, Carrie Symonds, who is pregnant, was in Downing Street or would be self-isolating. The recommendation for members of the household of someone who has the virus is to self-isolate for 14 days.
Johnson promised in a video that he can continue to work from home, and “thanks to the wizardry of modern technology, to communicate with all my top team to lead the national fightback against coronavirus.”