The Prime Minister pushed back at accusations of inaction and weak leadership, insisting that preventing a British oubtreak was the government’s ‘top priority’.
He said he had met with the chief medical officer and reassured the public that the NHS was equipped to deal with a coronavirus epidemic.
And he added that everyone could do their part by ‘washing our hands for twenty seconds or more with hot water and soap’.
Mr Johnson has come under fire in recent days for bunkering down at his countryside residence in Kent rather than returning to Number 10 to lead the response against both the flooding and coronavirus.
This anger threatened to boil over today when it emerged he has scheduled a COBRA meeting for Monday, rather than calling a round-table of the government’s top officials immediately.
But the PM, who is now back in London, swatted away accusations of inaction when quizzed in a TV interview this evening.
He insisted ‘we’ve just had a meeting of all government ministers’ and there had been a ‘regular series of COBRA meetings to prepare for this eventuality’.
The Prime Minister said he had been in meetings with the chief medical officer and had made preventing the spread of infection the government’s ‘top priority’
Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrives at Downing Street today, after national outrage for his slow response reached a crescendo
Earlier today, the PM’s political rivals lined up to blast him for his handling of the health crisis.
Reacting to the scheduled COBRA meeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: ‘Our part-time prime minister needs to get a grip of this escalating situation quickly.
‘It shouldn’t take another three days for this meeting to take place. People are understandably worried.
‘Boris Johnson should drop his childish ban on ministers appearing on BBC radio programmes.
‘The public deserves to hear what plans are in place to deal with the outbreak.’
Downing Street continues to boycott the BBC’s flagship morning current affairs show, the Today programme.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson did the government’s broadcast round this morning, appearing on 5 Live, LBC and Talk Radio.
Lib Dem acting leader Ed Davey said: ‘People across the country are anxious and concerned about coronavirus: they want to see leadership.
‘The Liberal Democrats called on Boris Johnson to chair a COBRA meeting weeks ago to ensure everything was being done to prepare for a potential coronavirus outbreak.
‘With the NHS already so stretched, it’s gobsmacking that the Prime Minister has delayed chairing COBRA for so long.
He spoke directly to Britons when he advised everyone to ‘wash our hands for twenty seconds or more with hot water and soap’
‘Just like his failure to visit communities hit by flooding, on Coronavirus Johnson seems like he’d rather bury his head in the sand than hear for himself what the experts are saying and what his Ministers are doing.’
The PM was also asked if he regretted not evacuating earlier the Britons trapped aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Yokahama, where today a UK citizen died.
Mr Johnson said: ‘We regret the loss of life of the individual concerned… But we believe it’s best st not to move too many people around unless absolutely sure there’s not going to be a spread or contagion to this country – that’s the prinicple we’re adopting.’
He added that the government would be issuing further advice on how to prevent the spread of the disease on UK soil in the coming days, following COBRA.
It is highly unusual for a COBRA meeting to be announced days in advance, but it is said to have been called on Monday for ‘logistical’ reasons.
Mr Johnson viewed Coronavirus preparations on a surprise visit to Kettering General Hospital last night, as he steps up his involvement.
Over the parliamentary recess, Mr Johnson has been spending time in Chevening, the foreign secretary’s official residence as renovation works prevented him staying at Chequers.