British PM Johnson is in charge of coronavirus response, junior minister says

Daily COVID-19 news conference in London

LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in charge of the government's coronavirus response and always has been, a junior minister said on Wednesday after a report that Johnson was taking control of the crisis.

With a suspected COVID-19 death toll of nearly 50,000, Britain has been one of the worst hit countries in the world and the government has faced criticism for being too slow to impose a lockdown, too slow to protect the elderly in nursing homes and too slow to build a test and trace system.

The Telegraph newspaper said Johnson was taking back control of the crisis with a Downing Street shakeup: two committees will make decisions about the government's response.

"The prime minister is the head of this government and the prime minister runs this government. The prime minister has always been in charge," junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky News when asked who had been in charge until now.

Asked about Britain's COVID-19 tracing system, he said: "We are into the thousands being successfully traced at the moment, I don't have the precise figures because we are working with the UK Statistics Authority to agree the process to make sure that they accept it's reliable."

Johnson will chair a new committee on strategy, while another on operations will be led by senior minister Michael Gove, the Telegraph reported.

Opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer said there was growing concern the government was now "winging it".

"I am putting the prime minister on notice that he has got to get a grip and restore public confidence in the government’s handling of the epidemic," he said in an interview with the Guardian.

"If we see a sharp rise in the R rate, the infection rate ... responsibility for that falls squarely at the door of No 10. We all know the public have made huge sacrifices. This mismanagement of the last few weeks is the responsibility of the government."


(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton, Editing by Kylie MacLellan)