Health minister Nadine Dorries says only ‘a crystal ball’ could have predicted need for second lockdown

Minister sparks criticism because Sage scientists recommended circuit break on 21 September

Boris Johnson ‘considering national lockdown next week’ in England

A health minister is under fire after claiming only “a crystal ball” could have predicted the need for a second lockdown – despite scientists calling for it six weeks ago.

Nadine Dorries became embroiled in a Twitter spat after criticism that every government action is “at least three weeks too late”.

“If only we had a crystal ball and could actually see how many over 60s would be infected, the positivity rate, the infection rate and the subsequent lag giving us the 14-day anticipated demand on hospital beds on any particular day, three weeks in advance,” the mental health minister protested.

However, the Sage advisory group of scientists recommended – as long ago as 21 September – that a “circuit break” lockdown of 2-3 weeks was needed, to curb rising Covid-19 infections.

Alex Norris MP, a Labour health spokesman, said: “The government didn’t need a crystal ball – it just needed to listen to the scientists who warned repeatedly this would happen.

“The government ignored calls for a short, sharp two-week circuit breaker – and, as a result, we now face an extended lockdown that will damage the economy and which ordinary people will pay the price for.”

Ms Dorries claimed it was “a surprise” that Covid-19 was no spreading so quickly in over-60s, putting hospital beds capacity under such pressure.

“I have no more information than you do,” she told one critic. “Anyone can take a look at the Covid dashboard on gov.uk and plot the trajectory of the virus.”

The controversy came as the Cabinet prepared to hold an emergency meeting at 1.30pm on Saturday – ahead of a press conference led by the prime minister at 4pm.

The hurried announcement immediately fuelled speculation that a fresh lockdown will be imposed even earlier than expected.

Ministers are expected to be briefed by government scientists ahead of the remote meeting, which follows a leak of plans for new, harsher coronavirus restrictions.

The prime minister was expected to hold a press conference on Monday, with the measures to come into force on Wednesday, but the timetable may have been derailed by the leak.

Any announcement that the restrictions – either a national lockdown, or tougher ‘tier 4’ measures in hot spot areas – are coming in before the Commons sits on Monday would be hugely controversial.

Tory MPs opposed to a new shutdown won a promise that they would be able to vote on such a proposal in advance.

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