A health minister has been urged to apologise after he predicted the UK will look back at its Covid-19 response “like the Olympics” and be “extremely proud”.
Lord Bethell was asked at a Conservative party conference fringe event where the UK would rank in the world in terms of its response to the pandemic. In his answer, he drew a comparison between the preparations made for the London 2012 Olympic Games and this year’s efforts to tackle the coronavirus.
Responding during the virtual talk run by the Centre for Policy Studies thinktank, he said: “I think there have been some outstanding pieces of delivery that have not been fully appreciated. And I think it will be like the Olympics, that’s when it’s all over and we look back and reflect, we will actually be extremely proud of ourselves.”
Labour called the remarks by L Bethell “tasteless and offensive”. The shadow health secretary, Jon Ashworth, said: “We have witnessed a level of suffering from this virus that was incomprehensible at the start of the year. For a health minister to suggest we will look back with pride and compare it to a time of national celebration is tasteless and offensive. He should apologise.”
Earlier, Bethell admitted the government had “struggled” to get hold of a list of all the care homes in the UK earlier on in the crisis. Ministers have faced stern criticism for a failure to prevent the virus from spreading to care homes during the spring peak of infections.
Bethell also revealed the government failed to anticipate a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests when children returned to schools en masse in September.
He added: “I think that the return to schools did catch us on the hop and there was a very understandable concern by both schools and then parents about getting kids tested. That has settled down dramatically and we’re very determined to keep the schools open. But schools and parents, I think, have got the message and we’re now prioritising tests much more clearly.”
Later, Bethell outlined how a theoretical “pregnancy-test-type” device might be used to determine if a person has Covid-19 on a daily basis to allow them to go about their day.
He said: “If you brush your teeth and take a test first thing in the morning and it’s negative, you’ve got a pretty good chance – and we’re trying to develop the science around this – of not being positive today or tomorrow. And that means that you’re enabled – and I think enabled is the key word here – to perhaps go to the pub, go to the theatre, to go to things where social distancing is problematic.
“Even if the test isn’t 100%, if it dramatically reduces the chain of transmission then it will have a huge impact.”