Coronavirus: Michael Gove blames China for failing to stop spread of Covid-19

Ministers accused of ‘feeble excuses’ for their own mistakes – and even of putting Chinese people in the UK at risk

Rob Merrick
Deputy Political Editor
Sunday 29 March 2020 17:26 BST
MichaelGove: Some of the reporting from China was not clear about the nature, the scale, the infectiousness of it

Michael Gove has blamed China for the failure to curb the spread of coronavirus, prompting accusations of “feeble excuses” – and that Chinese people in the UK are being put at risk.

Facing criticism that the government failed to prepare properly for the pandemic, the Cabinet Office minister instead deflected attention to Beijing’s actions in the early days of the crisis.

“We’ve been increasing the number of tests over the course of the last month,” Mr Gove said.

He added: “The first case of coronavirus in China was established in December of last year, but it was also the case that some of the reporting from China was not clear about the scale, the nature, the infectiousness of this.”

Ed Davey, the acting leader of the Liberal Democrats, dismissed the claim, saying: “The evidence this was a serious virus was well documented through January into February.

“We need to understand precisely how ministers were responding, rather than feeble excuses that they didn’t know.”

And Nick Lowles, the head of the Hope not Hate anti-racism group, said: “Gove is quick to throw the blame at China over lack of UK coronavirus testing.”

The comments come after a report that Downing Street believes the communist state faces a “reckoning” over its handling of the outbreak and even risks becoming a “pariah state”.

The Mail on Sunday said ministers and officials believe China is guilty of a campaign of misinformation and attempts to exploit the pandemic for economic gain.

The claim has echoes of Donald Trump’s controversial labelling of the disease as “the Chinese virus”, which undermined G7 efforts to coordinate the fight back.

Mr Lowles added: “Prepare for a steady stream of anti-Chinese rhetoric coming from government politicians as they try to deflect from any criticism of their own handling of the crisis.

“This will lead to an upsurge in attacks and abuse on the UK’s Chinese community.”

Criticism of Boris Johnson’s government has focused on the crucial delay before unpopular restrictions – already in place in many other countries – were introduced.

Ministers also held back on securing sufficient ventilators, protective equipment and testing of NHS staff, even as the scale of the outbreak became clear.

However, Carl Bildt, a former prime minister of Sweden, also turned his fire on Beijing, saying: “According to one recent study, if Chinese authorities had openly acknowledged the threat and responded properly just three weeks earlier than they did, the spread of Covid-19 could have been reduced by as much as 95 per cent.

“Because local negligence, ignorance, and censorship prevailed at the critical moment, the entire world is now paying an enormous price.”

Iain Duncan Smith, who has protested against Chinese firm Huawei helping to build the UK’s 5G network, said the UK must rethink its relationship with the nation.

“As a result of Beijing’s cover-up and delay, global health experts are convinced the rest of the world had insufficient time to prepare for the pandemic, which means the effect of the outbreak has most likely been worse,” he claimed.

“For too long, nations have lamely kowtowed to China in the desperate hope of winning trade deals.”

Mr Gove, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr programme, announced that the UK had reached its initial target of testing 10,000 people a day for coronavirus.

The aim is to raise the rate to 25,000 a day, but he was unable to say when mass testing would be introduced.

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