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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 7°C
Sky News/Screenshot Matt Hancock on Sky News.
contact tracing

Matt Hancock laughs off suggestion that 'Test and Trace' launched early to distract from Cummings saga

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the system wasn’t being rushed through to distract from the Cummings controversy.

THE UK’S HEALTH Secretary Matt Hancock believes that the “vast majority” of the British public will abide by the new rules of the test and trace system, and laughed at the idea that it had been launched to distract from the Dominic Cummings controversy.

When asked on Sky News whether the Test and Trace system was being rushed through as a distraction, Matt Hancock laughed, and said that he’s usually accused of not acting fast enough.

This comes amid reports by Sky News that some contact tracers do not have their basic systems up and running yet; the UK’s Department of Health has insisted that the “vast majority of our 25,000 staff have completed their training”. 

The UK’s contact tracing system, called ‘Test and Trace’, will be rolled out across England today – although the accompanying app is still delayed by several weeks.

Under the new system, manned by around 25,000 contact tracers, people who come into close contact with a coronavirus sufferer will be told to self-isolate for 14 days.

People contacted as part of the new NHS Test and Trace system must stay at home, Matt Hancock has said, while continuing to defend Dominic Cummings for “acting within the guidelines”.

If an person tests positive, NHS contact tracers or local public health teams will call, email or send a text asking them to share details of the people they have been in close contact with and places they have visited.

The team then emails or texts those close contacts, telling them they must stay home for 14 days even if they have no symptoms, to avoid unknowingly spreading the virus.

The Health Secretary said “the instructions are absolutely clear” and that, if told to do so by a tracer, it is very important that individuals self-isolate for 14 days.

His comments came amid mounting Tory anger over alleged lockdown breaches by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, whose actions the Health Secretary said he understood people disagreed with.

Hancock said he believes “the vast majority” will self-isolate voluntarily under the new system and that people will not receive penalties for failing to abide by the guidelines “in the first instance”, but he left open the possibility of making it mandatory for people to stay at home in the future.

Cummings controversy

Asked why people should follow the new guidelines in light of Cummings’s actions, Hancock said: “I think that the vast majority of people will understand that it is in everybody’s interest that those who are in higher risk follow the requests from the NHS, these instructions, and it is very important that they do.

And, frankly, this is about how, as a country, we get out of this lockdown in the safest possible way, short of having a vaccine or an effective treatment, which obviously we’re working on but we don’t yet have.

At least 38 Tories called for Cummings to quit or be sacked, but Hancock remained adamant that the Downing Street aide acted in line with the rules.

“I’ve said that I think that he was acting within the guidelines; I also understand why reasonable people might disagree with that,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Senior minister Penny Mordaunt admitted there were “inconsistencies” in Cummings’ account – saying “there is no doubt he took risks”.

Johnson continued to stand by his aide and insisted it was time to “move on” when he faced intense questioning over the issue in an appearance before the Commons Liaison Committee of senior MPs yesterday.

However, former home secretary Amber Rudd added her name to the list of prominent Tory figures saying Dominic Cummings should quit.

“Yes, I think he should quit, because he’s making things worse,” Rudd said on ITV’s Peston programme.

Rudd said that, through various Government campaigns, Johnson had seen Cummings as a “talisman, a lucky charm, and that he needs him going forward”.

“Dominic has been a winner for him on these campaigns but he’s not instrumental to good government,” she said.

And my problem at the moment is that Dominic is being negative for good government. He’s a public servant – it should be about service – and at the moment he is not helping this country.

The launch of the Test and Trace system comes as:

  • The toll of deaths linked to the virus rose to almost 48,000, while at least 188 frontline health and care workers have died after contracting Covid-19.
  • Johnson said he has asked scientists to review the two-metre social distancing rule to see if it can be reduced in an effort to help public transport and the hospitality sector.
  • Johnson also promised to look into a condition of the immigration system which has left people with no state financial support during the coronavirus crisis.

All non-essential shops in England can reopen from 15 June after they were closed under the imposed lockdown on 23 March. 

Meanwhile, a test and trace system is also launching in Scotland, where an easing of the lockdown is expected later.

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