Boris Johnson has been slammed as a "part-time" Prime Minister for announcing he will chair his first emergency committee on Coronavirus… in three days' time.
The Prime Minister will finally take the lead at COBRA, which has met at least four previous times to discuss the outbreak under other ministers.
Downing Street claimed he would head up the meeting personally to show "everything that can be done, is being done".
But the meeting will only happen on Monday. And before it happens, the PM is expected to spend the weekend at his lavish grace-and-favour country retreat Chequers.
Labour leadership hopefuls Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy demanded quicker action.
Ms Nandy said: "Half the country is underwater, people are terrified of coronavirus and Boris is nowhere to be seen. The people of Britain deserve better than a part-time prime minister. If he doesn't want the job he should own up and stand aside".
Sir Keir added: "The Government has a responsibility to provide leadership and assurance on the country’s preparedness for the coronavirus. The sooner COBRA meets the better."
It comes after Mr Johnson was criticised for spending nine days out of the public eye during floods and as the COVID-19 outbreak worsened – with the first Brit dying of the disease today on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship.
Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth added: "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."
The government stepped up its response as three more people tested positive for coronavirus in the UK, bringing the total to 19. One patient in Wales and two in England have been diagnosed, officials announced.
It emerged last night that overstretched hospitals here in the UK would be forced to treat only the patients most likely to survive should the virus take hold.
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “The NHS would find it hard to cope if the pandemic took off.”
Officials previously said Mr Johnson was letting Cabinet ministers in charge of environment and health take the lead. They include Health Secretary Matt Hancock.
"The Prime Minister is keen to chair Cobra on Monday to ensure that everything that can be done is being done," a No 10 spokesman said today.
The Prime Minister spent four hours visiting Kettering Hospital during the night shift on Thursday night.
During his visit – which lasted until 4am – he spent time discussing preparations for dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak with senior clinicians.
He also spoke to patients in A&E – though some refused to talk to the Prime Minister.
One patient told the Mirror: "He stopped and spoke to me and asked how I was doing and what my thoughts were towards the hospitals waiting times. I won't lie, I was brutally honest."
The hush-hush trip came hours after Jeremy Corbyn branded Mr Johnson a "part-time Prime Minister" for rubbing shoulders with the rich at a Tory ball.
Experts have warned mass gatherings – including sporting events and concerts – could face cancellations for at least two months amid the global spread of the coronavirus.
As the 16th case of coronavirus was confirmed in the UK, experts have warned of school closures and cancelled events as the disease spreads.
Professor Chris Whitty, chief medical officer, said on Thursday that there could be a "social cost" if the virus intensifies.
"One of the things that's really clear with this virus, much more so than flu, is that anything we do we're going to have to do for quite a long period of time, probably more than two months," he said.
As of yesterday there were 82,294 confirmed cases of the disease and 2,804 deaths – including 57 outside China.
German officials today said the number of confirmed cases in Germany has soared to almost 60, adding: "It's a very dynamic situation."
Italy has the highest cases outside China with 400 and 12 deaths. Japan has 186 cases, Singapore has 93 and the US has 59.
Health Minister Jo Churchill batted off concerns that the PM was not doing enough. She said: "We’ve been working on this since the first cases. We have had daily meetings, we’re in regular contact with other members of the G7, we’ve had regular COBRA meetings. It’s important that we know what we have to do and when we have to do it."
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