Piers Morgan and Matt Hancock in on-air row over government's response to coronavirus

Andy Wells
Freelance Writer
Piers Morgan and Matt Hancock were involved in a heated row on Good Morning Britain. (ITV)

A row broke out on live television on Thursday morning after the health secretary was challenged over the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak.

During an interview on ITV’s Good Morning Britain (GMB), Matt Hancock was asked about issues including lockdown, personal protective equipment and social care but he became visibly frustrated at host Piers Morgan throughout the questioning.

It marked the second on-air row of the morning for Hancock, who also clashed with Nick Robinson on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme over the issue of when to relax lockdown rules.

As he repeatedly told Robinson to stop interrupting, Hancock said: “The communications are part of the policy. That is why we will not be distracted in to confusing that messaging. The scientists can say what they like, the commentators can say what they like.”

‘Behind the game’

On GMB, Morgan raised the issue of the government allowing the Cheltenham Festival to take place just as the coronavirus outbreak took hold, but Hancock insisted ministers followed the advice at the time about mass gatherings

Morgan also challenged the health secretary to take a pay cut after Hancock said footballers should do the same during the pandemic.

However, Hancock, said he would not take a cut in his salary, instead saying he would “work every hour there is”.

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Hancock then went on the discuss ventilation and insisted they are building both types of ventilators required.

He said the “core goal” of making sure the NHS capacity is above the demand had been met.

However, Hancock then said, that despite being well-prepared, “other things have come up”.

The interview became more heated as it went on and Morgan highlighted the government’s pledge on PPE and testing.

Morgan said: “If we were so well prepared particularly with testing, why is it we were behind the game with testing, why is it we were so far behind the game on PPE?

“Why is it we had to go cap in hand, begging manufacturers to make ventilators? Why is it we turned out to be so underprepared?”

Hancock said the accusations were “not true” and told Morgan he was “misjudging the public mood”.

Morgan responded: “I don’t give a damn about the public mood. I care about you answering my questions.”

Matt Hancock was challenged on the government's coronavirus strategy. (PA)

Interruptions

Hitting back at Morgan’s questioning, Hancock said: “I’ve come on this programme to answer your questions and I was just about to do that.

“You asked me about four questions in that series and I’m now going to go through each one of them in turn and I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t interrupt me.”

Defending the government’s strategy. the health secretary went on: “We were one of the best prepared countries in the world. Well prepared.

“For instance, with a large stockpile of PPE. The challenge has been this is a new virus and it has a different impact to any virus seen before so, for instance, with the PPE stockpile we had, one of the parts of it didn’t have much of, because previous viruses haven’t needed it, is full length gowns as opposed to aprons.

“In terms of testing, we were one of the first countries in the world to develop a test. We have ramped up that test.

“We went from 2,000 at the start of March to 10,000 at the end of March and we are on the trajectory to get the capacity to get to 100,00 by the end of this month. It’s been a mammoth effort.”

Piers Morgan brought up the issue of PPE for NHS staff. (PA)

‘Let me speak’

Morgan went on to question the health secretary about a Financial Times story that claimed ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients were useless due to the wrong instructions from Hancock.

Hancock said the story was “not true” but Morgan pressed the health secretary, telling him he was refusing to “admit to making any mistake”.

Hancock responded: “I’m now going to answer your previous question and then that question and you're not going to interrupt me. Let me speak.”

As tensions rose, Morgan replied: “You don't actually run this show. You don't decide how I do an interview… You do your job and I’ll do mine.”

Hancock told Morgan: “Well if you would do your job then you would let me answer… I will answer these questions and if you interrupt me again i will just keep talking so don't, thank you.”

Lockdown extension

The health secretary was speaking on the day the government is expected to extend lockdown for another three weeks.

On Wednesday night, health minister Nadine Dorries took to Twitter to urge journalists to stop asking about an exit strategy.

She said: "There is only one way we can 'exit' full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine. Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.”

Hancock said on Thursday that he agreed things will not go back to how they were, at least in the short term.

He stressed the number of deaths is still "far too high" for any exit strategy to be set out, adding the public must instead focus on staying at home.

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