Health minister urged to apologise for comparing pandemic and Olympic ‘pride’

A health minister has been urged to apologise after he predicted the UK will look back at its Covid-19 response "like the Olympics" and be "extremely proud".

Labour called the remarks by Lord Bethell "tasteless and offensive".

The peer was asked at a Conservative Party conference fringe event where the UK would rank in the world in terms of its response to the pandemic.

In his answer, he drew a comparison to the preparations made for the London 2012 Olympic Games and this year's efforts to tackle the deadly virus.

Responding during the virtual talk run by the Centre for Policy Studies think tank, he said: "I think there have been some outstanding pieces of delivery that have not been fully appreciated.

"And I think it will be like the Olympics, that's when it's all over and we look back and reflect, we will actually be extremely proud of ourselves."

Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said: "We have witnessed a level of suffering from this virus that was incomprehensible at the start of the year.

"For a health minister to suggest we will look back with pride and compare it to a time of national celebration is tasteless and offensive. He should apologise."

Earlier, Lord Bethell admitted the Government "struggled" to get hold of a list of all the care homes in the UK earlier on in the crisis.

Ministers have faced stern criticism for a failure to prevent the virus from spreading to homes for the elderly during the spring peak of infections.

Lord Bethell also revealed the Government failed to anticipate a surge in demand for Covid-19 tests when children returned to schools en masse in September.

He added: "I think that the return to schools did catch us on the hop and there was a very understandable concern by both schools and then parents about getting kids tested.

"That has settled down dramatically and we're very determined to keep the schools open. But schools and parents, I think, have got the message and we're now prioritising tests much more clearly."

Later, Lord Bethell outlined how a theoretical "pregnancy test type" device might be used to determine if you have Covid-19 on a daily basis to allow you to go about your day.

He said: "If you brush your teeth and take a test first thing in the morning and it's negative you've got a pretty good chance – and we're trying to develop the science around this – of not being positive today or tomorrow.

"And that means that you're enabled – and I think enabled is the key word here – to perhaps go to the pub, go to the theatre, to go to things where social distancing is problematic.

"Even if the test isn't 100%, if it dramatically reduces the chain of transmission then it will have a huge impact."