A Government minister was ridiculed after his confused attempt at explaining how mass testing could ease restrictions for individuals living in Tier 3 areas.
More than 55 million people face tougher coronavirus restrictions in England after December 2 as Boris Johnson warned any easing off could lead to another national lockdown in the new year.
Some of the highest rates of Covid-19 in the UK will see the likes of Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Kent – amongst large swathes of the Midlands, North East and North West – plunged into Tier 3 amid concerns over rising hospital admissions.
But during his address from Downing Street on Thursday evening, the Prime Minister said mass-testing could allow individuals to escape particular restrictions – even if they are living in a Tier 3 area.
Business and Industry Minister Nadhim Zahawi was asked on BBC’s Question Time to explain the PM’s vague reference but appeared to tie himself in knots.
Host Fiona Bruce said: “So, it’s not everyone in Tier 3 coming out of it in a particular region but individuals within Tier 3 could get a test and then what – have people round? What did he mean?”
The MP for Stratford-on-Avon said: “No, so the pilot that was run in Liverpool – which I think is really important – is if you are then tested every day for five days…if you are someone who has been notified through test and trace of somebody that has the infection that you’ve been close to then you don’t have to quarantine. And that’s a big change.”
Confused, Ms Bruce said: “So, the people who are in Tier 3 as of next week, just to be clear because this was new information this afternoon – and that’s 23 million people – if they are in Tier 3 next week they have to be what? Tested for five days in a row and then they’re free to do what they want?”
Mr Zahawi answered by again referring to the mass testing pilot scheme in Liverpool before trailing off.
He then said: “If you’re notified that you’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, at the moment you would have to quarantine – as the Prime Minister is doing – if you do, as we did in Liverpool…”
But Ms Bruce cut in: “Isn’t that a different thing though? Just to be really clear because it really struck me.
“The Prime Minister is saying mass testing could allow individuals to be released from certain restrictions, even when they are in Tier 3.
“He’s saying what, people who have a negative test can live in a different way to those who haven’t had a negative test – or haven’t even been tested at all in Tier 3 – is that what he means?” she said, still puzzled.
The minister answered: “No, I think the restriction is the quarantine issue, so if you are – as we have just done in Liverpool – if you get notified you have to quarantine, therefore further restrictions on your ability to move around.
“If you get a test every day, and you test negative every day, then you don’t have to quarantine. That is being delivered through this pilot community testing…”
The host cut him off: “But that’s for everywhere, that’s not just Tier 3. He was just referring to Tier 3.”
Mr Zahawi said: “Well, no. The reason he was referring to Tier 3 is because we’re focusing community testing on Tier 3 areas.”
Taking to Twitter viewers were less than impressed with the politician’s attempt at clearly explaining the reference.
One said: “He doesn’t have a clue, does he!” While another added: “Lies lies lies. Over and over again.”
Others were confused by mass testing itself, as well as the Government’s failure to meet promised deadlines for the tracing system.
One viewer wrote: “I would be interested to see the results of the mass testing. I’m struggling to understand how it works as there is no contact tracing.”
Another added: “In mid June didn’t he tell you the Isle of Wight track and trace app would be rolled out by the end of June.”
A third pointed out: “We’ve complied with mass testing in Liverpool & still been put in tier 2.”