Priti Patel insists she has been fighting against coronavirus

Home Secretary Priti Patel insists she has been working ‘virtually every single day’ on the fight against coronavirus as she faces her first daily press conference since the deadly outbreak swept the UK

  • Priti Patel appeared at government’s coronavirus briefing today for the first time
  • The Home Secretary has faced questions for not appearing at any before today
  • The daily briefings started on March 13 and have seen several ministers appear 
  • Learn more about how to help people impacted by COVID

Home Secretary Priti Patel has insisted she has been working ‘virtually every single day’ in the battle against coronavirus after appearing at today’s government press conference for the first time since the outbreak began. 

The conferences have been running since March 16 and have seen numerous senior ministers drafted in to update the nation on the latest in the fight against the deadly disease.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma appeared at the briefing on April 1, while Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared at the March 29

However, the Home Secretary has failed to appear until today, despite holding one of the UK’s four great offices of state.

Ms Patel, who was asked where she had been in recent weeks, said she had been working ‘virtually every single day’ on a range of policy areas related to the pandemic.

She listed some ways in which she said the Home Office had been supporting the NHS.

Home Secretary Priti Patel appeared at the daily government coronavirus briefing today for the first time

Ms Patel said: ‘Whether it’s through the visa changes that I’ve brought in over the last three weeks or whether it’s the work of the Border Force where we were absolutely prioritising medical equipment, these are the changes that I have been working on.’

She said she wanted to let viewers at home know ‘all their Government minsters are working night and day to help to defeat this virus’.

The Home Secretary added that efforts are being made to ensure ‘this Government is working at every single level across every Government department because this is not just about the work of one Government department any more’.

Today’s briefing came as Britain’s coronavirus death toll hit 917 bringing the UK’s spiralling victim count to 9,875. The youngest victim was just 11 years old.

And Ms Patel warned that criminals are adapting to exploit the coronavirus crisis even though overall crime figures have dropped by 21 per cent.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Secretary Alok Sharma appeared at the briefing on April 1

Housing, Communities and Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared at the March 29 briefing

Fraudsters have used the pandemic to con Britons out of £1.8 million so far, while Ms Patel warned that paedophiles are seeking to exploit the fact that children are increasingly going online to meet friends and do school lessons on their computers. 

Ms Patel said: ‘Fraudsters are exploiting coronavirus as a hook for new acquisitive crimes with losses to victims already exceeding £1.8 million.

‘The perpetrators of sickening online child abuse are seeking to exploit the fact that more and more young people and children are at home and online.

‘And in the last week the National Domestic Abuse Helpline reported a 120 per cent increase in the number of calls it received in one 24-hour period.’

Figures released by the government also showed that the number of observed cases is increasing because the number of tests is increasing

Another graph showed the number of deaths compared by the number of days into the crisis. The UK is behind the US but in line with Italy

A graph released at the briefing showed the number of people in hospital beds in different areas of the country. The largest number is seen in London

Today’s conference is the first time that Ms Patel has taken centre stage in the battle against coronavirus. 

Before today, Ms Patel’s last public appearance is thought to have been Home Office questions in the House of Commons on March 23. 

Earlier this week, questions over why Ms Patel had not chaired one of the daily briefings came as she was embroiled in a furious row with MPs over when she will answer questions in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee.

She is said to have turned down four invitations to appear in front of the committee since January.

Ms Patel has now committed to giving evidence before the end of the month but committee chairman Yvette Cooper is adamant the session must take place on April 15.

The Home Secretary’s last public appearance is thought to have been in the House of Commons on March 23

The Home Secretary has had a noticeably reduced public role in recent months after she faced a series of bullying allegations earlier this year.

Allies of Ms Patel suggested her absence from press conferences was simply because other departments, like the Treasury, have had more major announcements to make than the Home Office as the crisis has unfolded.

Ms Patel has been due to give evidence in public on the Home Office’s response to the coronavirus pandemic to the Home Affairs Select Committee since January, but a date for a hearing is yet to be set.

Since then, she has faced accusations of belittling officials at the Home Office – claims she has vehemently denied – with Sir Philip Rutnam resigning as permanent secretary amid claims of constructive dismissal and bullying.

Ms Cooper is believed to have written six letters to Ms Patel over the last three months in an effort to officially set a date for the Home Secretary to give evidence to the committee.

After apparently not replying to several of Ms Cooper’s letters, Ms Patel responded on Tuesday, writing that she was ‘disappointed at the increasingly adversarial tone of our exchanges’.

Ms Patel is also locked in a furious row with Labour MP and chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee Yvette Cooper over when the Home Secretary will answer questions in public

She added that she was ‘very sorry’ the committee declined her offer of private briefings at the Home Office, but would ‘make (herself)… available for a session with the committee, on our response to Covid-19, towards the end of the month’.

In reply, Ms Cooper said the committee was preparing to meet remotely for the hearing on April 15.

‘We believe that there is no reason for any delay beyond this date,’ Ms Cooper said.

‘Delaying until the end of the month would clearly be inappropriate given the urgency of the public information and answers that are needed.’

Ms Cooper said many other ministers had made themselves available to committees during the crisis.

‘This is a time of national emergency where public information, reassurance, leadership, transparency and scrutiny are in the national interest,’ Ms Cooper said.

‘At a time like this, we therefore expect to see the Home Secretary and senior officials demonstrate public leadership and transparency and to be ready to answer public questions without delay.’

Ms Patel has appeared in front of the committee once – last October – since she was appointed to the role in July.

Allies said the Home Secretary had never refused to attend the committee and that the issue has been trying to find a date which works.

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