Dominic Raab has caused confusion by wrongly saying there were 250 people in hospital with omicron when the latest figure was just 10.
The Deputy Prime Minister appeared rattled when he issued a correction to the statistics for England after twice giving the wrong number during a series of broadcast interviews on Tuesday morning.
His first figure to Sky News of 250 was alarming because that was up by 240 on the figure announced a day earlier by the UK Health Security Agency.
After initially describing the number of people in hospital with omicron as being “significant”, Mr Raab was pressed over the scale.
“Last I saw it was in the low hundreds, 250 the last time I looked, but of course the data is being updated all the time,” he told Sky.
Minutes later, he told BBC Breakfast: “I know we’ve had one death. I think we’ve got nine people who are in hospital with it.”
But two sources told the PA news agency the latest figure was actually 10, pending a further update.
Mr Raab went on to say it was “10 at the moment” when he was quizzed over the confusion during an appearance on ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
After being interrupted, he said: “Can I answer the question? I understand you like ranting at your politicians in the morning but can I answer the question because it’s a fair challenge and I want to answer it.
“First of all, I misheard one of the questions around whether it was hospitalisations of omicron-related patients or more generally, but the figures are: 1 death from omicron, 10 in hospital, and I can tell you the latest daily hospitalisations (for all Covid strains) run at 900.”
The confusion came as dozens of Tory MPs plan to rebel on the Government’s new coronavirus restrictions, in what is predicted to be the largest Commons rebellion against Boris Johnson since he entered No 10.