Coronavirus: Has Boris Johnson been taking ‘unnecessary risks’?

It took Boris Johnson 11 hours between discovering he had tested positive for coronvirus and his decision to inform the nation. 

Already in that time he had worked out his top priority – to show the country that despite self-isolating with symptoms that he was still in charge of the levers of power in government.

Under the British system of government, Mr Johnson must nominate one member of the cabinet to take over in the event he is incapacitated. That individual is First Secretary of State Dominic Raab.

However, in the video, and in the subsequent Downing Street briefing, they made absolutely clear this contingency plan has not been activated – for now.

In truth, Downing Street cannot be entirely sure how long that will hold for. Even as good wishes arrived from across the spectrum including political foes such as Alistair Campbell, everyone knows the course of this condition is unpredictable.

What is immediately apparent is his determination to carry on as usual, to show the nation that working from home as Number 11 Downing Street has become, is possible. This will hold – for now.

However, his approach is likely to prompt questions about his more general approach.

The first was why he went ahead with the 8pm appearance with Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the steps of Downing Street to take part in the “clap for the NHS”. Despite the two meter distance between them, was it really wise when waiting for test results to be standing with the chancellor at all?

This question has become more urgent since the news that Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has been hit with the disease as well.

He too is working from home, claiming only mild systems, but for two of the most significant people in the government response to be hit at the same time suggests unnecessary risks have been taken.

The second, bigger question is whether the prime minister has let himself be recklessly exposed in recent days to people he could catch the virus off.

He did press conferences with the media in person on Sunday, surrounded by cameramen and staff on Wednesday in his first “virtual conference”.

He has also been chairing daily meetings with those in the frontline of the medical, scientific and policy response to COVID-19.

Have Sir Mark Sedwill, cabinet secretary, Dominic Cummings, his senior adviser and Michael Gove, cabinet office minister, been unnecessarily exposed?

Were meetings really necessary and wise to do in person so many times this week, when the scale of the problem was clear.

Downing Street has already confirmed others who work in Number 10 have self-isolated with symptoms, not least David Frost, the Europe adviser.

This is a testing time for the British state. We do not know how the virus will affect the prime minister. We do not know if it will hit others at the heart of government hard. All this at the most critical moments for the British state since the Second World War.

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