Make medical equipment, Johnson tells firms as UK death toll climbs

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a news conference on the coronavirus outbreak. (AP pic)

LONDON: Boris Johnson will ask car makers to help build medical equipment in a direct appeal to businesses for help, as he tries to reboot his coronavirus strategy after the UK death toll rose to 35.

Amid criticism that they are not doing enough to tackle the crisis, the premier and senior ministers will hold daily televised briefings with medical advisers to explain the government’s response.

Plans are being drawn up for curbing some everyday activities, and asking people over the age of 70 to stay home, potentially for months.

On Monday, the prime minister will hold a call with manufacturers, including Unipart Group Limited to urge them to make ventilators for the National Health Service.

He will promise to buy as many of the ventilators as the companies, including car makers, can produce, officials said. The government is also in talks with private hospitals to buy up bed space to increase capacity.

“Preparing for the spread of the coronavirus outbreak is a national priority and we’re calling on the manufacturing industry and all those with relevant expertise who might be able to help to come together to help,” Johnson’s office said in a statement.

“We need to step up production of vital equipment such as ventilators so that we can all help the most vulnerable, and we need businesses to come to us and help in this national effort.”

Washing hands

The UK has been criticised for not following other countries which have shut schools and banned large gatherings to stop the spread of the disease.

Its response so far has centred on personal hygiene, self-isolation of those who think they’re sick, and tracing and testing those who had contact with people who tested positive.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on Monday defended the government approach, saying ministers are being led by their scientific and medical advisers, and pointing out the outbreak isn’t as advanced yet as in other European countries.

The UK has “just been in a slightly different stage, obviously compared to places like Italy but also a little behind where France and Germany are,” Shapps told Sky News.

“It’s not that we’re not going to get there, but our responses, of course, are timed in a different way unique to the particular stage of this that we’re in in the UK”

Johnson’s team also came under fire for not being open enough about its plans after favoured media outlets were briefed about the details rather than information being made publicly available.

“I cannot say this strongly enough: Ministers need to stop anonymously briefing journalists and start speaking directly to the public,” Gavin Barwell, who was chief of staff to Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, said on Twitter.

“Trust in government is going to be vital during the difficult months ahead and it is best fostered by transparency, not off the record briefing.”

The number of deaths rose to 35 on Sunday, compared to 21 a day earlier, according to data released by the UK’s department of health and social care.

A total of 1,372 had tested positive for the disease, compared to 1,140 on Saturday, it said.

The government said it is working to help companies hit by the crisis after Virgin Atlantic warned the airline industry needed support as much as £7.5 billion if it is to cope with global travel restrictions.

Ministers will introduce proposed emergency laws to Parliament this week to enable them to take action to control the outbreak. The legislation will include powers to ban large gatherings and reinforce regulations allowing people to be quarantined if they are judged to be a risk to the public.

Click here for our live update of the Covid-19 situation in Malaysia.