A Tory minister has been ridiculed after getting the population size of Liverpool wrong during an interview on a new pilot testing programme for coronavirus.
Business minister Nadhim Zahawi said 2,000 troops would deliver thousands of coronavirus tests to people living in Liverpool city as part of a pilot programme to map the spread of the virus.
If successful, the pilot – which will see Liverpudlians tested regardless of whether they are showing symptoms – will be a major step forward in the strategy to contain the virus and reopen the economy.
The programme will also trail new “turnaround” tests seen by many in Whitehall as a “gamechanger” in the government fight against the virus. The tests can be self-administered and are expected to give a result within 10 to 15 minutes.
Zahawi was confident anyone who needed a test would receive one but was left red-faced when he did not know just how many people would apply for one.
Appearing on LBC radio, the minster said: “Today, 2,000 of our great army personnel are helping that city be able to test each and every person if they need a test.”
Radio host Nick Ferrari asked: “How many each and every people are there? What is the population of Liverpool?”
When Zahawi said he thought it near 1.7 million people, Ferrari cut in: “You’re way over the line.”
“You’re ready to test every single person but yet you don’t know how many there are.”
Ferrari suggested it was not a “good look” that a government minister promoting the programme did not know how many people would need testing.
“That’s not great, is it?” Ferrari pressed, “[so] why should I believe any number?”
Responding to a clip of the interview, Leslie Henderson tweeted: “This guy always throws a number in the air and is always wrong.”
Wayne Ellis added: “It beggars belief just how clueless these people are.”
It beggars belief just how clueless these people are.
— Wayne Ellis #FBPE (@WayneEllis2) November 6, 2020
“The media should just start interviewing Alexa instead,” quipped Mike Ray.