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Health Minister’s Tweet “Caused Confusion” Over Lockdown

From ITV News:

Bedfordshire MP and Health minister Nadine Dorries has been embroiled in a Twitter spat with senior journalists over her comments on when lockdown might end.

Ms Dorries, has sought to clarify her suggestion that the “full lockdown” to tackle coronavirus could only be lifted once a vaccine was developed by insisting there could still be relaxation of the social-distancing.

Her comments – which caused confusion – appeared to suggest that restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 could be in place for well over a year.

Dorries had stated that “There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine”, adding in the same Tweet that “Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy”. As a celebrity politician, Dorries’s social media outpourings are regularly featured in the media by hacks looking for something easy to write up, although controversies are usually trivialised as “spats”.

In this instance, Piers Morgan highlighted Dorries’s Tweet as an “Astonishing break from other Govt statements”. Dorries called this a “ridiculous interpretation”, and the argument put forward by her supporters is that the second sentence modifies the meaning of the first sentence rather than explicates it:  thus, “adapt society” and “strike a balance” mean strategies to gradually relax full lockdown, rather than strategies to maintain full lockdown over a long period. Journalists who failed to grasp this intended meaning and instead focused on her plain meaning by quoting her are thus engaged in misreporting or sensationalism.

This avoidable confusion falls far short of the essential “clear messaging” that is needed from the government at such a time. Had Dorries written “fully ‘exit’ lockdown” rather than “‘exit’ full lockdown” there would have been no controversy, but the minister airily dismissed a suggestion from the journalist Kay Burley that she had misspoken. Dorries then followed up by RTing the Sun journalist Tom Newton Dunn (this guy), whose view was that “Restrictions of varying sorts are likely to remain for many months, and she’s the only person in Govt who has the courage to say it publicly.” One wonders what Dorries’s colleagues (Matt Hancock in particular) will make of her endorsement of such an assessment, which pertains not just to her but to them.

This is not the first recent Tweet from Dorries to generate an adverse reaction. Her comment that “the country can breathe again” after the Prime Minister passed through his health crisis was seen as infelicitous at a time when hundreds are dying of a respiratory disease, and she has recently taken to amplifying posts by Paul Staines (“Guido Fawkes”) focusing on the political views of particular health professionals who have been interviewed by the BBC about the crisis.

One of these posts, concerning a male nurse raising concerns about PPE shortages, was a typically crude Staines hit-piece, and it was of questionable judgement for a health minister to have promoted it (the nurse concerned of course was then the object of a Twitter pile-on). It should also be noted that despite Staines’s “anti-establishment” pose, some material that he publishes is actually provided to him by Conservative politicians, including Dorries. One particularly obvious example from a few years ago was when Dorries attempted to smear an online critic who was off work for medical reasons as a benefits cheat.