Boris Johnson spent nearly two weeks out of the public eye, staying at a taxpayer-funded country mansion with his girlfriend as ministers held emergency meetings on the coronavirus crisis.
As the nation faced the twin crises of flooding caused by Storm Dennis and the rapidly escalating Covid-19 outbreak, the Prime Minister was staying at Chevening, a 115 room lakeside mansion set in 3,500 acres in the Kent countryside.
The Grade-I listed, 17th century mansion is traditionally the country residence of the Foreign Secretary.
But the PM stayed there because renovations were being performed on his own grace-and-favour mansion, Chequers.
Along with Chequers and Dorneywood, the country home is managed by a trust with some taxpayer funding.
After chairing the first meeting of his newly reshuffled cabinet on Friday, February 14, he decamped to Chevening with partner Carrie Symonds.
The UK had already raised the threat level of the virus from low to moderate two weeks earlier, after the first two cases were confirmed on British soil – a pair of Chinese nationals who fell ill at a hotel in York.
NHS England had already declared its first “level 4 critical incident” at the end of January.
Number 10 insisted he was working from the lavish country pile during his absence, but faced criticism for failing to visit flood-hit communities or chair Cobra meetings on the virus.
Reports emerged that aides had been told to keep any briefing notes to the PM ‘short’ during his time away from Number 10.
He was next seen on Downing Street on Monday, February 24 – and later that evening attended the Conservative ‘Winter Party’, an extravagant fundraising event for party coffers.
By this time he had missed five Cobra meetings on the crisis.
Mr Johnson was pictured lording it up at the bash, where Tory MPs and millionaire donors coiffed champagne and blew tens of thousands on auction items to fill Mr Johnson’s war chest for the then-looming local elections.
The Mirror later revealed Tory chiefs had been “disappointed” by the amount of cash raised at the auction.
Mr Johnson left the event early.
Later that week he announced he and Ms Symonds were engaged, and she was pregnant.
The PM had already faced criticism for enjoying an extended vacation on the Caribbean island of Mustique with Ms Symonds and failing to return to work to deal with a looming crisis in Iran.
A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The Government has been working day and night to battle against coronavirus, delivering a strategy designed at all times to protect our NHS and save lives.
“Guided by medical and scientific expertise, we have implemented specific measures to reduce the spread of the virus at the time they will be most effective.
“Our response has ensured that the NHS has been given all the support in needs to ensure everyone requiring treatment has received it, as well as providing protection to businesses and reassurance to workers.”