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 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 in 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 are currently wearing masks. If he wants to persuade the public, he may need to persuade his backbenchers, first.