Boris Johnson ‘put politics above public health’ by visiting vaccine plant despite warning of Covid outbreak

‘The prime minister and his advisers knew there was a serious Covid outbreak – they knew the visit posed a risk’

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
@Rob_Merrick
Wednesday 03 February 2021 14:35
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Blackford accuses Johnson of ‘PR stunt’ after visit to Covid outbreak plant
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Boris Johnson visited a vaccine plant despite No 10 being warned of a Covid outbreak, triggering condemnation in the Commons.

The prime minister was accused of a “reckless PR stunt” – after it emerged that the boss of the manufacturing site in Scotland had alerted his team to the outbreak.

“The prime minister and his advisers knew there was a serious Covid-19 outbreak at this plant – they knew the visit posed a risk,” SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford said.

The visit, to the Valneva factory, in Livingston, was made last Thursday, on Mr Johnson’s ‘Save the Union’ trip north of the border.

Valneva’s chief financial officer, David Lawrence, has said that Downing Street was informed in advance of the 14 coronavirus cases at the plant – about one in eight of the workforce.

“They were made aware we’d had some reported cases and had implemented our control procedures,” he told the Daily Record.

But the prime minister defended the trip and claimed: “Nobody raised that issue with me before or since.”

Later, Mr Johnson’s spokesman repeatedly refused to confirm that he had not been told of the Covid outbreak – while acknowledging Downing Street was informed.

At the factory, Mr Johnson was pictured meeting the site director and holding equipment. He was wearing a mask, but conducted TV interviews with his face uncovered.

The local health board, NHS Lothian, has confirmed an intervention by an incident management team took place last Wednesday – the day before the trip – after a suspected outbreak.

At prime minister’s questions, Mr Blackford added: “The prime minister acted recklessly,” attacking “the irresponsible decision to go ahead with this PR stunt”.

“The prime minister can't just explain away this shocking error of judgement,” he said, arguing he “put politics before public health”.

Mr Johnson first ducked the issue of the warning, replying: “I can think of few things more important than to see the rollout of vaccine programmes across this country.”

But, when pressed a second time, he told MPs: “Nobody, by the way, raised that issue with me before or since.

“It is my job to visit every part of this country, nothing and no-one is going to stop me and I am very, very proud of the record of the government in rolling out the vaccine.”

The visit had already been controversial, after Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister, questioned whether it was the “essential” travel allowed under lockdown rules.

“We are living in a global pandemic and every day I stand and look down the camera and say, ‘Don’t travel unless it is essential, work from home if you possibly can’. That has to apply to all of us,” she said.

“People like Boris Johnson and I have to be in work for reasons people understand, but we don’t have to travel across the UK. We have a duty to lead by example.”

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