'Complete waste of time.' UK media slam government coronavirus briefings

The UK will open the doors this week on what could soon be the biggest intensive care unit in the country. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh reports from east London.

Posted: Apr 2, 2020 10:20 AM
Updated: Apr 2, 2020 10:20 AM

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government can typically find a safe space in the digital and print editions of many of the most popular British newspapers.

But some of the UK government's biggest cheerleaders are now tearing into it over its response to the coronavirus pandemic, slamming confusing and conflicting messaging from senior members of Johnson's cabinet.

In the crosshairs: The government's daily press conferences and the lack of a clearly articulated plan for boosting coronavirus testing capabilities. Only 2,000 frontline health care workers have so far been tested.

While the daily Downing Street briefings were initially conducted with reporters in person, they've been held virtually for more than a week because of strict social-distancing rules. Reporters have to take part via video chat, making it harder for them to interrupt or challenge government ministers with followup questions.

Most striking is ferocious criticism from The Telegraph, a supporter of the Conservative Party, Johnson's former employer and the one newspaper he could normally rely on to boost his government no matter the situation.

Telegraph political columnist Michael Deacon has turned his fire on the ministers now routinely handling the press conferences since Johnson was forced into self isolation last Friday after he tested positive for coronavirus. Deacon's column on Wednesday called the briefings "pathetic" and "a complete waste of time."

"People need clarity and candor. This evening, all they got was 24 minutes of the most pitiful, dispiriting waffle," he wrote of the most recent press conference, lead by Business Secretary Alok Sharma.

The front page of Thursday's Telegraph was no kinder. Under a banner headline "Questions without answers" atop of a photo of Sharma, the Telegraph excoriated the government for being "unable to answer basic questions" about increasing testing capabilities.

Citing former health ministers and medical experts calling the government's handling "ridiculous," the paper said the government was releasing scant details on a five-point plan to tackle the testing crisis.

Andrew Neil, chairman of the Spectator, another Conservative-leaning publication, called the press conference on Wednesday "particularly uninformative," with "far too much waffle and obfuscation."

The Daily Mail, also a Conservative-booster, lambasted the government in its own blaring cover story, saying "Mail demands ministers FIX TESTING FIASCO NOW."

"By a country mile, the greatest misstep of this government in cracking the virus has been the shambles over mass testing," the paper's editorial board wrote. "Mr. Johnson says he is exasperated by the slow progress. Welcome to how the rest of the nation feels!"

Opposition party officials have even taken to citing the Mail, not a typical ally, in a clear sign the government's communication strategy is failing.

Shami Chakrabarti, Labour's top spokesperson on legal affairs, called for the government to be more transparent and clear in its communications.

"What the Daily Mail is now calling the testing scandal or shambles is an example of a lack of both clarity of what the plan is and how it is going to be executed," she told BBC radio.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 47432

Reported Deaths: 2687
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Marion11546683
Lake5104242
Elkhart321144
Allen2737129
St. Joseph190866
Cass16389
Hamilton1538100
Hendricks1390100
Johnson1256118
Porter72037
Tippecanoe6948
Madison65564
Clark64044
Bartholomew58244
Howard56557
LaPorte56326
Kosciusko5354
Vanderburgh5026
Marshall4823
Jackson4693
Noble46928
LaGrange4677
Hancock44035
Boone43743
Delaware43150
Shelby42325
Floyd37144
Morgan32731
Montgomery29320
Grant29126
Clinton2882
Monroe27628
Dubois2666
White26010
Henry25815
Decatur24932
Lawrence24225
Vigo2318
Dearborn22823
Harrison21222
Warrick21229
Greene18532
Miami1822
Jennings17411
Putnam1688
DeKalb1604
Scott1607
Daviess14216
Orange13623
Wayne1366
Steuben1282
Perry1279
Franklin1248
Ripley1157
Jasper1142
Wabash1122
Carroll1102
Fayette987
Newton9810
Starke923
Whitley905
Randolph784
Huntington742
Jefferson722
Wells711
Fulton691
Jay680
Washington681
Gibson672
Knox640
Pulaski641
Clay604
Rush563
Adams501
Benton480
Owen471
Sullivan441
Brown381
Posey380
Blackford372
Spencer371
Crawford300
Fountain302
Tipton301
Switzerland260
Martin220
Parke220
Ohio140
Vermillion140
Warren141
Union130
Pike100
Unassigned0193

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 56183

Reported Deaths: 2907
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Franklin10023420
Cuyahoga7571372
Hamilton5770197
Marion273038
Lucas2700302
Pickaway218841
Summit2110206
Montgomery193126
Mahoning1818231
Butler154744
Columbiana129560
Stark1091112
Lorain99767
Trumbull92565
Warren82321
Clark7659
Delaware55315
Belmont54422
Fairfield54316
Tuscarawas54110
Medina50832
Lake49218
Licking46612
Miami45531
Portage43258
Ashtabula43144
Wood41251
Geauga40042
Clermont3946
Wayne36051
Richland3325
Allen30840
Mercer2808
Greene2489
Darke24625
Erie23622
Holmes2263
Huron2112
Madison1938
Ottawa14323
Crawford1355
Washington13120
Putnam12715
Sandusky12714
Hardin12012
Ross1183
Morrow1161
Auglaize1064
Coshocton942
Monroe8817
Jefferson872
Union821
Muskingum811
Hancock781
Hocking788
Preble731
Williams692
Clinton680
Guernsey683
Lawrence680
Shelby654
Fulton610
Ashland581
Carroll583
Logan581
Wyandot586
Brown561
Defiance503
Athens491
Knox481
Fayette460
Highland441
Champaign391
Scioto380
Van Wert340
Seneca332
Perry321
Henry290
Adams231
Paulding230
Pike230
Jackson220
Vinton222
Gallia161
Harrison121
Meigs120
Morgan110
Noble110
Unassigned00
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