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Coronavirus: NI Secretary Brandon Lewis clashes with Piers Morgan over testing and rejects SF claim over easing lockdown


Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis clashed with TV presenter Piers Morgan.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis clashed with TV presenter Piers Morgan.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis clashed with TV presenter Piers Morgan.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis clashed with TV presenter Piers Morgan in a row over the UK's Covid-19 testing numbers on Thursday morning.

He also rejected claims from Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney that "right wing" elements in the UK Government wanted to ease the current coronavirus restrictions to help the economy.

Appearing on ITV's Good Morning Britain, Mr Lewis was forced to admit that he did not know how many people were tested in the UK on Wednesday.

Piers Morgan said that a cabinet member not knowing the testing numbers was "deeply worrying".

Mr Lewis said that he believed around 22,000 tests had been carried out overall, but did not know on how many individuals that amounted to. Some people are tested more than once.

"I don't have that data in front of me at the moment no," the Northern Ireland Secretary said.

Mr Morgan replied: "How can you not know that?".

The broadcaster informed the government minister that tests had been carried out on 13,000 people, while capacity stood at over 40,000.

"No wonder our testing is such a shambles if you in the cabinet do not know how many people are being tested and it's way lower than you think," the TV host said.

Mr Lewis tried to shift the focus on to testing capacity having exceeded 40,000, despite less than half of that being used so far.

Mr Morgan criticised the talk around testing capacity as "meaningless" when carers cannot access the tests.

“Meanwhile, one in four care home workers who fear they have coronavirus have been tested," he said.

“So three out of four care workers who fear they have coronavirus have not been tested.

“That is an absolute disgrace and for you to keep talking about capacity when you have three quarters of our care workers who think they’re infected, unable to get a test, is a national disgrace isn’t it?”

The Northern Ireland Secretary accepted that more people needed to be tested.

"I'm agreeing with you, Piers, I think it's dreadful that we can't get more people tested," Mr Lewis replied.

"That's why it's important we do upscale the ability for people to access these tests both with more test centres, the ability to have the tests at home and the ability to apply for them directly rather than having to apply through their employer, which has been slowing things down."

The government has promised to increase testing to 100,000 people a day by the end of the month.

"The target is still to do 100,000 tests a day," Mr Lewis insisted.

On Thursday Mr Lewis told the BBC that he believed Sinn Fein's Declan Kearney may be "reading too much into newspaper reports" after he suggested that "right wing elements" in the UK Government and "some unionists" were in favour of easing lockdown measures to benefit the economy.

Mr Kearney said that some politicians were willing to put "corporate greed over public welfare".

At a meeting of the Conservative Party's powerful 1922 committee of backbench MPs on Wednesday a number of MPs expressed concern at the damage the lockdown is causing to the economy.

The Northern Ireland Secretary said he believed protecting the economy and public health were "not mutually exclusive".

"All our decisions at every stage of this virus have been around the medical and scientific advice, about what is in the best interests of the health of the people in this country," he said.

"The economic side is why we have put such a big package of support out there for businesses and the NI executive has been doing their work around that.

"I talk to businesses in Northern Ireland regularly about that."

Mr Lewis said the UK was now "at a stage where we may be starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel".

It was revealed earlier this month that Mr Lewis was last in line to stand-in for Prime Minister Boris Johnson after he was admitted to hospital with Covid-19.

Belfast Telegraph