The Daily Telegraph

Marital misery may be larger than life but it merits a serious response from the PM

- By Michael Deacon

If you remain unpersuade­d of the case that Twitter has driven the world stark staring bonkers, consider this. Yesterday, a Trinidadia­n rapper named Nicki Minaj claimed to her 22.6million followers that the fiancé of her cousin’s friend had called off their wedding because a Covid vaccine had caused his testicles to swell up like space hoppers. And mere hours later, at a news conference in Downing Street, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was forced to issue a response.

Seriously. This actually happened. Well, not the bit about the vaccine causing a Caribbean bridegroom to grow balls like prize pumpkins. Obviously, that didn’t happen. But the claim, ludicrous as it may be, was neverthele­ss made to a vast global audience – and the leader of Her Majesty’s Government really did find himself urged to comment.

Admittedly I haven’t yet conducted a thorough examinatio­n of the historical record, but I think it’s probably fair to assume that this is the first time a British prime minister has been asked a question of this nature. Sir Anthony Eden may have faced some pretty uncomforta­ble questions over Suez. But, if he were still around today, he would surely reflect that he could have faced worse.

As it happened, standing alongside Boris Johnson was Chris Whitty, and he answered first. Hardly bothering to conceal his disdain – either for Ms Minaj’s tweet, or the fact that he was expected to comment on it – the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) briskly dismissed the case of the Trinidadia­n testicles as “clearly ridiculous” and “untrue”.

As for the Prime Minister, he responded with what was, in the circumstan­ces, an impressive degree of patience and diplomacy.

“I’m not as familiar with the works of Nicki Minaj as I probably should be,” he said, politely. “But I am familiar with Nikki Kanani – the superstar GP of Bexley, who has appeared many times before you [at Covid news conference­s] to tell you that vaccines are wonderful and that everybody should get them. So I prefer to listen to Nikki Kanani!”

That bizarre interlude aside, the news conference was dedicated to the PM’S plan to prevent hospitals being overwhelme­d this winter. Throughout, Mr Johnson and Prof Whitty followed their familiar routine: not so much good cop/bad cop as good cop/sad cop.

The PM would sound encouragin­g and cautiously optimistic – while the CMO would sound glum and full of foreboding. (“It wouldn’t take many doubling times to get into trouble…”)

Mr Johnson insisted that he didn’t want to reimpose restrictio­ns unless he had to. For now, he gently invited us to “consider” wearing a mask in places that are crowded and poorly ventilated.

Of course, one place that’s invariably crowded and poorly ventilated is the House of Commons – where almost none of Mr Johnson’s MPS is currently wearing masks. If he wants to persuade the public, he may need to persuade his backbenche­rs, first.

‘The Chief Medical Officer briskly dismissed the case of the Trinidadia­n testicles as “clearly ridiculous”’

‘I’m not as familiar with Nicki Minaj as I should be. But I am familiar with Nikki Kanani – superstar GP of Bexley’

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