Minister ‘out of depth’ trying to explain self-isolation rules while defending Dominic Cummings on Question Time

Helen Whately is questioned over the lockdown and Dominic Cummings' rule-breaking by Question Time's

Helen Whately is questioned over the lockdown and Dominic Cummings' rule-breaking by Question Time's Fiona Bruce. Photograph: BBC. - Credit: Archant

A minister has been branded 'out of her depth' after she tried to explain the rules on self-isolation in the context of Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham.

Health and social care minister Helen Whately appeared on Question Time to explain the rules of the lockdown, after Boris Johnson's senior aide took a 260-mile trip to Durham while sick with Covid-19.

Asked if she thought it would change people's behaviours over the track and trace system, she said: 'What we've seen so far is people consciously following the guidance and in fact the guidance has included recognising that some situations will be more difficult, for instance if you're looking after somebody that's particularly vulnerable, you have a childcare situation.'

Presenter Fiona Bruce interjected to ask: 'Just to be clear – so if you have a childcare situation, since you mentioned it, you have a problem with childcare, and you happen to one of the people identified as someone who has to stay at home for two weeks, you may not necessarily have to stay at home then.'

But Whately said people would 'clearly have to make sure that your child is safe as any parent should do so'.

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Bruce pressed the minister again. She asked: 'So if you have to leave home to do that – even if you've been told to self-isolate – you can do that?'

The care minister continued: 'If you're contacted because you're a contact of somebody that's got symptoms and told to isolate at home then you should be able to do some at home. Everyone will have had their scenarios.'

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Unconvinced by her answer, the presenter continued to probe her. 'Just to be clear because it is important, we're all going to have to adjust to this new system. If you are told to self-isolate at home for two weeks because you've been in contact with someone who has symptoms but you have problems with that and you find it difficult because of childcare issues you can behave otherwise, you don't have to self-isolate at home?'

She said that ministers should follow the guidance, but not to leave a child in an unsafe situation.

Bruce pointed out it appeared that it was now a case of following the rules unless you cannot.

Stumbling to defend the position, Whately snapped back: 'That's not what I'm saying actually at all. You should absolutely follow the guidance and that's been the case all the way through of people should follow the guidance. Well the guidance has always said that safety would be a factor and you should be clearly a responsible parent.

'But what's really important is people follow the guidance and through doing that that's how we manage to keep the infection rate under control and so life can get back to normal or closer to normal which would be so much better for everybody.'

Viewers were left baffled by the care minister's explanation.

'Never seen anyone flounder like Helen Whately,' noted one.

'This is embarrassing. Scores of MPs are trying and failing to defend the indefensible,' wrote Ed Gleave.

'Is there a car crash emoji? I feel there should be a car crash emoji,' questioned Liza Frank.

Clare Hepworth tweeted: 'Helen Whately #bbcqt I'm speechless. She's a Health Minister for goodness sake. With, I believe, responsibilty for Social Care. Another Minister, promoted beyond competence, not on top of her brief.'

'This is just embarrassing,' tweeted Paul Shilly. 'It shows the total mess that the Cummings incident has done to the Covid guidance message - none of them can articulate what the guidance is any more as they know Cummings broke it so have to skirt around it. Pathetic.'

Paul Elliot wrote: 'One of the most inept & out of their depth politicians ever seen. Remember her contemptuous sniggering in an interview when questioned on her departments complete failings? Not fit for office.'

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