Boris Johnson was accused of being “missing in action” during the crucial early weeks of the pandemic as the Government failed to prepare for the crisis.
The Prime Minister was not at the first five Cobra meetings as the first coronavirus cases arrived in Britain.
Instead they were led by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, who said after the first, on January 24, that the scientific advice was the risk to the British public was “low”.
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “None of us expect the impossible, we understand that mistakes will be made in a crisis of this nature, but there are serious questions as to why the Prime Minister skipped five Cobra meetings throughout February, when the whole world could see how serious this was becoming.”
The Government is under pressure over its early response to the virus amid claims it should have done more in February and March to save lives.
As Mr Johnson recovers at Chequers from the virus after being discharged from hospital eight days ago, the focus turned on his absences.
On the day of the first Cobra meeting he later attended a Chinese New Year event in Downing Street.
For the next three on January 29, February 5 and February 26 he was thought to be preparing for Prime Minister’s Questions as the meetings took place.
But on two of these dates he found time for a “People’s PMQs ” at which he spoke about Shakespeare.
The last of the five Cobra meetings he missed was thought to have taken place while he was in country retreat Chevening with fiancee Carrie Symonds and did not make a public appearance for 12 days.
Aides were told to keep their briefing papers short during the PM’s “working holiday” if they wanted them to be read.
There have been claims he may have spent some of his time preparing his adult children with his ex Marina Wheeler for the news he and Ms Symonds were having a baby and planning to marry.
Prof Sir David King, the last Labour government’s chief scientific adviser, said: “I cannot recall a Cobra meeting when it was called with Tony Blair or Gordon Brown as PM when the Prime Minister wasn’t in the chair.”
On February 26 Mr Johnson was accused by then-Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn of being a “part-time” PM.
A week later, on March 2, Mr Johnson chaired his first coronavirus Cobra meeting – five weeks after the first – and signed off the Government’s “battle plan” to contain, delay and mitigate the spread of the virus.
But more delays followed, with the Government issuing no requests to labs for help with testing or to industry to build ventilators until the middle of last month.
A full lockdown was not announced until March 23.