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 the prime minister’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.
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.
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.
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 doing tracing 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.
The UK lockdown has been in force for 66 days and is due to be reviewed on Thursday.