The UK has become one of the world’s hotspots for Covid once again in recent weeks but the government is still refusing to bring back any legal restrictions – despite increasingly desperate pleas from the NHS.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Thursday, Robinson reminded Argar of the previous advice from chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance about locking down “sooner than you want to”.
Robinson asked: “Aren’t you ignoring his advice, by saying ‘oh hold on, not plan B yet, let’s wait and see’?”
The health secretary’s deputy, Argar, replied: “No, I don’t think we are – and of course I know Patrick well, and we always listen very carefully to his advice, and the chief medical officer’s advice [Professor Chris Whitty].”
Robinson interrupted: “Is he saying don’t do plan B at the moment?”
Argar hit back: “What we have to make a judgement call on Nick, is when is the right time to do plan B.
“I can entirely understand why you on behalf of your listeners want to know what is the binary moment [to enact plan B], and what triggers doing that – sadly, it’s not that simple.
“There’s a range of considerations and factors.”
Robinson continued to press the minister and asked: “Just to clarify – have advisers advised ministers to do plan B but you’ve taken a political decision not to?”
Argar replied: “Ministers set out the stance but don’t go into detail what advisers do or don’t say to them.”
Robinson said: “So it’s perfectly possible that they have – what people would like to know is, why ignore?
“We don’t need to know about your ‘secret’ advice. We know it’s happening in Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland. They say, masks contribute [to lowering case numbers].”
“It is not as simple as one factor triggers this,” Argar replied.
Chief scientific adviser to the UK, Patrick Vallance, has previously spoken out about how he is always candid with the government about what course of action they take.
He said: “You’ve got to go sooner than you want to when it comes to taking interventions, you’ve got to go harder than you want to and you’ve got to go more geographically broad than you want to.”
When Argar continued to dodge his questions, Robinson said: “The reason you’re not doing plan B is that the Tory party won’t let you – isn’t it?
“You can’t persuade a single MP to wear a mask during prime minister’s questions [PMQs] even though on the very same day Sajid Javid goes on the television and tells the rest of us we should wear our masks.”
However the health minister maintained that it’s a personal decision for each MP on whether to wear a mask.
Downing Street has faced intense backlash after Javid advised the public to wear masks during Wednesday’s press conference, just hours after hundreds of MPs were seen in the Commons, maskless.
When addressing concerns from the NHS Confederation chiefs who are pushing for more restrictions, Argar also said: “I have huge respect for them, and I deal with them regularly in my role.
“I don’t think they are right in their timing.”