A bombshell Times report finds the UK PM was on holiday in February and missed ‘Cobra’ meetings on looming Covid-19 threat, while Trump threatens ‘consequences’ if China made a mistake

The finger of blame turns: The political blame game over the UK government’s comparably tardy response to warnings about the virus and its apparent lack of urgency around preparations landed with a thump of the hefty Sunday Times on the 10 Downing Street doormat.

In a lengthy investigation similar to that by the New York Times and Washington Post over Trump’s denialism, The Sunday Times forensically broke down 38 days in which it said Prime Minister Boris Johnson had failed to attend critical briefings on the disease and ministers had played down its seriousness. 

Not exactly Churchillian: “There’s no way you’re at war if your PM isn’t there,” the newspaper’s Insight team quoted an unnamed Downing Street adviser as saying. “And what you learn about Boris was he didn’t chair any meetings. He liked his country breaks. He didn’t work weekends. It was like working for an old-fashioned chief executive in a local authority 20 years ago. There was a real sense that he didn’t do urgent crisis planning. It was exactly like people feared he would be.”

Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove rather lamely defended the Prime Minister and acknowledged the premier had not attended the Covid-19 briefings. (The Sunday Times is behind a robust paywall but this Guardian report has most of the key details reported.) Meanwhile, with cases mounting, Britain is planning to extend its lockdown and Boris is still recovering from Covid-19 in his official country house.

China in the sights of a blame game: US President Donald Trump turned his beam of blame from the World Health Organisation (WHO) to China in a weekend of erratic news conferences, inflammatory tweets and attacks on the journalist most effective at reporting on him.

He has picked up a theory that the novel coronavirus outbreak could have originated in a Wuhan laboratory rather than the “wet market” selling wild animals, which has so far been identified as the likely starting point. Trump threatened consequences if China was “knowingly responsible”. (Bloomberg News)

Quote du Jour: “If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake. But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, then there should be consequences,” Trump told a White House briefing on Covid-19.

SARS V2.0? While Trump sprays blame on Beijing, having previously praised the country for its speedy response and openness, some genuine questions have been raised about the origin story of the SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2) which causes the Covid-19 disease.

Wuhan lab theory: In a column rather than a deeply reported article, Washington Post foreign policy commentator Josh Rogin quoted from State Department memos he said had raised concerns over the security of a Wuhan laboratory working on coronavirus research. Perhaps inevitably, Wuhan lab authorities deny it was the source, according to the Chinese international broadcaster CGTN. Here’s a Guardian article from before the lab claims were published which canvases the most likely origins of the virus and the outbreak.

Australia too: The Australian government also called for an investigation into the origins of the virus causing the global pandemic and questioned how transparent China had been. “The issues around the coronavirus are issues for independent review, and I think that it is important that we do that. In fact, Australia will absolutely insist on that,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne told ABC television, Reuters reported.

She went on to question how open China had been, saying: “My trust in China is predicated in the long-term. My concern is around transparency and ensuring that we are able to engage openly.”

Distraction avoidance mechanism: For background on whom, or the WHO, told what to who, when and how, the New York Times has had a series of investigative reports setting out what happened when. Wired magazine has a version too.

Trump on Sunday attacked one of the reporters on that New York Times investigation and a more recent report that his chief of staff had been close to tears over Covid-19. The reporter was Maggie Haberman, a former New York-based reporter who has tracked his career in real estate and moved to Washington to continue her forensic coverage of him as president.

Worth subscribing for: “She’s a third-rate reporter,” he said of a journalist he is well known to call directly himself. (The Guardian). (Eds: Bernard subscribes to the Times specifically to read and support Haberman.)

The numbers: 2,375,433 Covid-19 cases had been reported worldwide as at early Monday, New Zealand time, according to Johns Hopkins University. Nealy a third, 742,442, of those cases, are in the United States, which has had 33,903 deaths, according to official data.

Other countries are available: Elsewhere, Spain has extended its lockdown, Austria is talking about easing its shutdown, Singapore is dealing with an increase in cases, and Israel and South Korea are looking at how to get their people back to work. It looks like the Muslim world will have Ramadan at home. (The Guardian) (Reuters).

The paradigm shifts towards governments: On the subject New Zealand and many other countries are starting to grapple with the implications of, The Washington Post launched a major series on the extent to which governments are intervening in the economy and daily life in the United States and around the world, shifting the balance with the private sector and towards state support and intervention.

“I think it could be paradigm shifting,” Janet L. Yellen, the former Federal Reserve chair, told The Post.

Peter Bale is a London-based journalist and media consultant who has worked for the Wellington Evening Post, Reuters, the FT Group, The Times of London, and CNN Europe.

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