The minister for patient safety, suicide prevention and mental health tweeted that until a Covid-19 vaccine is developed and made available to the public, society will have to “adapt” to a “full lockdown”.
In a tweet on Wednesday, she said: “Journalists should stop asking about an ‘exit strategy’. There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine.
“Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.”
Her comments sparked a row with journalists, including Piers Morgan, who said her suggestion the UK would be in “full lockdown” until a vaccine materialises was an “astonishing break” from the official statement from the government.
Ms Dorries responded by saying Mr Morgan had made a “ridiculous interpretation” of her words, adding that “it would be more helpful to talk about ‘relaxing lockdown’ than instantly demanding an ‘exit strategy’”.
She added: “My point being, some of you guys need to start asking more intelligent questions.”
When pushed back by Mr Morgan, who said he had quoted her directly, Ms Dorries said there was “more than one lockdown”.
“Full, or the introduction of a relaxation/easement strategy — eventually to a full exit,” she said.
Sky News’ Kay Burley weighed in, suggesting that Ms Dorries “misspoke”. She said: “Its OK to admit when you’re wrong Ms Dorries”.
But the MP doubled down, replying: “I say it as it is. I speak in politics as I do in life. If I need to apologise, I won’t hesitate … I really did not misspeak. Please see my last tweet for clarity for those who need it.”
Ms Dorries herself contracted coronavirus and subsequently recovered from it.
Her comments come as England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said the UK is “probably” reaching the peak of the outbreak but is not yet past it, and warned that increases in the daily death toll are expected this week.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Ms Dorries’ comments showed the need for the government to provide greater clarity.
He told Sky News: “This is the problem, isn’t it, because if the government don’t provide clarity then people can read things into misleading or badly phrased tweets by junior health ministers.”
The government has been put under pressure to discuss an “exit strategy” as to how the lockdown will be lifted. New Labour leader Keir Starmer called on ministers to publish the exit strategy as he said the severe restrictions have “exacerbated existing inequalities” throughout the UK.
A three-week extension to the lockdown is expected to be announced on Thursday during the daily news briefing — a plan Sir Keir said Labour will support.
But he also said in a letter to foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who is deputising for Boris Johnson as he recovers from coronavirus: “The question for Thursday therefore is no longer about whether the lockdown should be extended, but about what the government’s position is on how and when it can be eased in due course and on what criteria that decision will be taken.”
Additional reporting by agencies
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