09/06/2020 09:03 BST | Updated 09/06/2020 15:01 BST

Health Minister Helen Whately Backtracks After Blaming Scientists For Care Home Deaths

After being told she couldn't pin the blame on the government's scientific advisers, she replied: "Well I can," before swiftly rowing back.

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Health minister Helen Whately quickly backtracked on Tuesday morning after she suggested scientists were to blame for the deaths in care homes from coronavirus.

The latest figures from the government suggest 12,739 care home residents have died from the illness so far - 29.1% of the entire UK death toll.

In an interview with Sky News this morning, Whately said the government had followed “scientific guidance as to what is the right thing to do” at “all points”.

Told “you can’t stick it the on the scientists” by interviewer Kay Burley, the minister replied: “Well I can.”

Whatley, who has responsibility for social care, quickly added: “No. no. That’s not what I meant to say. To be clear that is your words.

“We’ve taken the scientific advice and then the judgement is made about what is the right decision to take.”

Burley replied: “You just said that. You just said ‘I can stick this on the scientists’.”

Yesterday health secretary Matt Hancock said the coronavirus epidemic in the care sector was “coming under control”.

He told the Downing Street press conference the number of people dying in care homes has fallen 79% from the peak in the week ending April 24 to the week ending May 29, according to the Care Quality Commission.

There has also been an almost 50% fall in the number of new care home outbreaks compared to the previous week, he said.

“In fact, if you look at the proportion of people in the UK who have sadly died in care homes, it is significantly lower than in comparable countries across Europe,” Hancock said.

A social care task force has been announced to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, as the Government expanded its testing regime to thousands more care homes in England.

Hancock on Sunday also said the government made the “right decisions at the right time” with the lockdown, despite a leading scientist saying lives would have been saved had ministers acted sooner.

Infectious diseases expert professor John Edmunds suggested the UK should have imposed restrictions in early March – although he admitted it would have been “very hard to pull the trigger at that point”.

Edmunds, who attends meetings of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: “I wish we had gone into lockdown earlier. I think that has cost a lot of lives unfortunately.”