Coronavirus: Matt Hancock warns self-isolating could be mandatory as he laughs off Dominic Cummings row

May 28, 2020

Matt Hancock has warned people could be forced to self-isolate under the new coronavirus test and trace system if they do not follow the rules voluntarily.

The health secretary predicted the "vast majority" will comply with the new strategy to loosen lockdown in England as he laughed off suggestions it was rushed forward to distract from the row over Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings.

He told Sky News' Kay Burley@Breakfast the suggestion was "priceless".

Speaking on the day of the launch of the contact tracing drive, he said: "We have considered making this mandatory and there are some other countries in which it's mandatory.

"But in the first instance we have great faith the public will follow the instructions from the NHS...

"It's an instruction from the NHS and it's very important that you do it, but it's legally not mandated at this stage because we think it's far, far better if as a country we pull together and do this and everybody follows the instructions."

Mr Hancock dismissed calls from a growing number of Tory MPs - which now include a senior minister - to sack Boris Johnson's top adviser for making three trips during lockdown which "undermined key public health messages".

"It's about the future - that's actually what matters," he said on Thursday.

Mr Hancock claimed an app that monitors if a person has been near someone with COVID-19 will be expanded from its Isle of Wight trial soon but is not essential. "It puts the cherry on the cake, it isn't the cake," he explained.

Asked what people should do if they have childcare issues but are told to self-isolate, Mr Hancock told Sky News: "Well, of course, it is very important that childcare is taken into account.

"I understand that as well as anybody, so yes it is very important that people deal with childcare and do that in a reasonable way."

Pushed on if they would need to stay at home, he added: "That is what you will be instructed to do, yes, and you should follow those instructions because that is in the best interest of everybody."

Mr Cummings said earlier this week he had "exceptional circumstances" to move from London to his parents' farm in Durham to seek childcare help, and claimed he drove 30 minutes to the town of Barnard Castle to test his eyesight.

Britons have been in lockdown for 66 days, following the point on 23 March where the government moved from trying to contain outbreaks to delaying them spreading across the country.

The emergency measures are due to be reviewed today, after at least 37,460 people in the UK died with the virus - the worst death toll in Europe and second highest in the world.

Jon Ashworth, Labour's shadow health secretary, said it was a "mistake" to "abandon" the track and trace strategy two months ago.

He told Sky News it's "not good enough" tests don't have a 24-hour result guarantee but urged "everybody to cooperate" with the government's new system.

"It's hugely disappointing and irresponsible that they back up Dominic Cummings right when we need people to follow the rules," he added.

Doubt has been cast on whether the test and trace system would actually be fully ready on time after an insider told Sky News that contact tracing at their level would not go live on Thursday.

"Some have not even got their basic systems up and running," they said, adding that they won't start making phone calls until next week.

A second person said they too had been told they would not be contacting people until Monday at the earliest and had not yet been given a login to the system.

One health department official told Sky News that not every tracer would be working straight away because of the low number of positive tests - there were 2,013 on Wednesday.

And they added launching the contact tracing system would give them a chance to sort out any issues ahead of lockdown easing on Monday when schools in England are being told to reopen.

Next week from Monday to Thursday, Dermot Murnaghan will be hosting After the Pandemic: Our New World - a series of special live programmes about what our world will be like once the pandemic is over.

We'll be joined by some of the biggest names from the worlds of culture, politics, economics, science and technology. And you can take part too. If you'd like to be in our virtual audience - from your own home - and put questions to the experts, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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