Boris Johnson has refused to launch an inquiry into Dominic Cummings’ breach of lockdown and instead urged the country to “move on” from the story that refuses to go away.
The prime minister will have hoped today’s surprise announcement – that England’s track and trace system to combat coronavirus will start tomorrow (Thursday) – would have secured the headlines and media coverage, thereby easing the ever-growing pressure on the PM to sack his most special adviser.
However, the public’s anger at the actions of the PM’s top aide continues to fill the inbox of too many Conservative MPs for the story to ‘move on’.
Instead it continues to develop as more Tory MPs – 43 at the latest count – publicly call for Cummings to be sacked or to resign. Sixteen more, including minister Penny Mordaunt and ex-health secretary Jeremy Hunt have been critical of Cummings explanation while former chancellor Sajid Javid said the journey to Durham was neither “necessary or justified”.
Political ding dong goes on
Yesterday, Johnson saw his Scotland Office minister Douglas Ross resign his position, stating the reaction to Cumming’s “interpretation of the government advice was not shared by the vast majority of people who have done as the government asked.”
Today, Johnson faced – via-video call – senior MPs to be questioned about his government’s handling of the pandemic by the Liaison Committee, made up of the Select Committee Chairs, who also pressed the PM on his handling of Cummings’ account of the journey to Durham.
When asked about an inquiry into the affair, the PM said it would not be “a good use of official time” as Britain battles the coronavirus and accused the members of the committee grilling him of engaging in a “political ding dong”.
The Telegraph’s sketch writer said Johnson “struggled to disguise his impatience” with the committee and that his key message at this hearing – “move on” – was repeated so often that it “was practically a catchphrase”.
Test and trace ‘will change people’s lives’ – PM
The story the PM wants everyone to “move on” to is the UK’s ‘test and trace system’ which, Johnson told the committee, “will change people’s lives”.
Test and trace will start tomorrow (Thursday) and though it will burden a “tiny minority” of the population, it will help to free 66 million others from lockdown, said the PM.
“And I would just say to everybody that it’s worth it, because that is the tool that other countries have used to unlock the prison, to make sure that we can go forward.”
Health secretary Matt Hancock provided more details during today’s Downing Street daily press briefing where he appealed to people’s “civic duty” and spoke of his trust in the public “to do the right thing” regarding the new rules.
The new rules under test and trace
- From Thursday, anyone with symptoms of coronavirus – fever, a persistent cough or sudden loss of taste and smell sense – should call 119 or ask online for a test.
- They will (like now) have to isolate for seven days and the rest of their household for 14 days.
- If the test result is negative, the household can return to normal.
- If the test returns a positive result the NHS Test and Trace team will get in contact – by phone, email or text – and work out everyone you have come into close contact with.
- Those deemed to be at risk will be told by the NHS to isolate for 14 days – whether they are sick or not.
- A test will be carried out if they develop symptoms. The rest of their household can continue as normal, unless someone becomes unwell.
- Anyone isolating will be eligible for statutory sick pay.
- The new rules are voluntary for now but Hancock said they could soon be “mandatory” if necessary.
‘Test and trace must become a new way of life’ – Hancock
How far the Cummings-affair has damaged confidence in the government messaging and impacts on the public’s adherence to it remains, for now, open to debate.
The new system applies only in England as Northern Ireland already has its own version with Wales due to implement theirs in early June and Scotland’s starting their system tomorrow (Thursday).
Hancock said the test and trace system “must become a new way of life” which will require a “national effort” if lockdown is to be lifted.