British Health minister Nadine Dorries sought to clarify her suggestion that the “full lockdown” to tackle coronavirus can only be lifted once a vaccine is developed by insisting there could still be relaxation of the social-distancing measures.

Her comments – which have caused confusion and led to an online spat with senior journalists – appeared to suggest that restrictions to stop the spread of Covid-19 could be in place for well over a year, as experts have said it could be 18 months before a vaccine is ready.

Ms Dorries triggered the row by saying journalists should stop asking about an “exit strategy” from the lockdown.

“There is only one way we can ‘exit’ full lockdown and that is when we have a vaccine,” she said.

“Until then, we need to find ways we can adapt society and strike a balance between the health of the nation and our economy.”

She rounded on broadcaster Piers Morgan, who said her suggestion the UK would be in “full lockdown” until a vaccine was developed was an “astonishing break” from official British Government statements.

Ms Dorries accused the Good Morning Britain presenter of a “ridiculous interpretation” of her words, adding “it would be more helpful to talk about ‘relaxing lockdown’ than constantly demanding an ‘exit strategy’.”

She later added “there is more than one lockdown”. That could be “full, or the introduction of a relaxation/easement strategy – eventually (leading) to a full exit”.

As Sky News presenter Kay Burley suggested that Ms Dorries “misspoke”, the minister said: “I say it as it is.

“I speak in politics as I do in life. If I need to apologise, I won’t hesitate.”

But she added: “I really did not misspeak.”

Ms Dorries, who contracted Covid-19 and subsequently recovered, is a bestselling author of fiction.

Britain’s Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the row triggered by Ms Dorries’ comments showed the need for greater clarity from the Government.

“This is the problem, isn’t it, because if the Government don’t provide clarity then people can read things into misleading or badly phrased tweets by junior health ministers,” he told Sky News.

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