A Daily Mail piece that poked holes in the UK government’s approach to coronavirus prompted the country’s Department of Health to cry foul, but the complaint backfired after the government failed to say what the paper got wrong.

Published under the headline ‘Covid: What They Don’t Tell You’, the article took aim at the government’s terrifying estimate in July of 119,000 deaths from Covid-19 if a second wave coincided with winter flu, noting that the prediction has so far been wildly off the mark. 

The Mail pointed out that the number of daily deaths being reported in the country is not unusually high for this time of year, adding that 95 percent of Covid-related deaths involved people with serious underlying conditions. The government’s fears of hospitals being overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients were also questioned, with the Mail reporting that only 31 percent of intensive care unit beds are currently occupied by patients that have tested positive for coronavirus.

The analysis caused a sensation on social media, and even caught the attention of the Department of Health and Social Care. 

“This article is misleading. This is a global pandemic – national restrictions have been introduced to keep people safe and save lives,” the department’s official Twitter account wrote in a now-deleted reply to the piece. The message urged Britons to “follow the rules and continue to stay at home” so that the country can “get back to normality.”

The comments appear to have had the opposite of their intended effect, however, with journalists, politicians, and countless social media users challenging the Health Department to elaborate on the “misleading” nature of the piece. 

“What specifically is misleading about it? It is not (yet) compulsory for the press to follow the government’s propaganda line,” journalist Peter Hitchens fired back at the department. 

Radio host Mike Graham was similarly unimpressed by the department’s vague dismissal of the article. 

Please address why it is misleading. Are the figures for hospital beds WRONG?Are the figures for death rates WRONG?Are the SAGE predictions not WRONG?Are the infection rates collected WRONG?Please explain #COVID19

The condemnation was echoed by countless other social media users, who accused the government of desperately trying to control the narrative surrounding the virus, while having even “less credibility than the media.”

The Daily Mail ran its own scathing retort to the department’s tweet, accusing the UK government of using “Twitter as a propaganda tool” in an attempt to undermine the paper’s reporting. 

The outlet published comments from several politicians who expressed regret over the government-sanctioned social media post. 

Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it was simply “good journalism” to “highlight the problems with the [official] figures that are being produced,” and urged the Department of Health to do its job rather than pick fights with news outlets. 

Another Conservative MP, Sir Graham Brady, said that “the people tell government what it can do – not the other way round,” and stressed that it is “essential” that there is an open debate about how to best deal with Covid-19. 

The UK government has come under increasing scrutiny for its Covid-19 restrictions, with critics arguing that lockdowns and curfews imposed across the country to deal with a second wave of the virus will have devastating economic, social, and health effects that will eclipse any potential benefits from the policies. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is currently isolating at Downing Street after meeting with an MP who tested positive for the illness. He is expected to release a “Covid Winter Plan” next week. 

The country has recorded 1,493,383 positive coronavirus tests, linked to 54,626 deaths, since the start of the pandemic. Despite an increase in testing, new cases have been dropping over the past week. Hospitalizations and deaths are still far from the peaks seen at the start of the health crisis in April. 

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