Vaccines minister is delighted to be getting the credit for something over which he has had little control

At the Downing Street press conference on Wednesday night, the prime minister had assured the nation that Matt Hancock would be giving an update on the government’s plan for hotel quarantine the following day. Only, come Thursday, it turned out there still was no plan. Or not one that the health secretary wanted to share with the rest of us. Boris Johnson had made a mistake – no one could accuse him of not being consistent, at least – and had confused wishful thinking for government policy. So the hotel plan the government had been talking about as if it existed for the past 10 days or so had been shelved until at least next week.

But Westminster abhors a vacuum, so in Hancock’s place we had to make do with a coronavirus update from the vaccines minister, Nadhim Zahawi. Safe to say, this was a statement eagerly awaited by almost no one. Even in these Covid times, I have never seen the Commons quite so empty. Zahawi was literally the only MP present on the government benches; by comparison, the opposition benches were rammed with just three MPs, one of whom was the shadow public health minister, Alex Norris. We can’t be far away from the time when an entire session takes place remotely.

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