Transport Secretary Grant Shapps appeared to change lockdown rules while defending under-fire Downing Street aide Dominic Cummings today.
The squirming cabinet member was challenged over Cummings’ 250 mile journey to Durham – despite tens of thousands of Brits having to be apart from their families in heartbreaking circumstances.
In an apparent blurring of the rules, Mr Shapps now claimed people had to quarantine “in the most practical way” – breaking drastically with government advice up to this point.
The government has previously told those who develop coronavirus symptoms – and those they live with – not to leave their homes.
Cummings claimed he made the journey with his wife and child because he was worried about the four-year-old’s welfare, and wanted to be nearby his family.
Facing questions from the media at today’s daily briefing, Mr Shapps stuttered: “If you’re in a position where you’ve got a young child and you’re worried about the welfare of that child then clearly being somewhere where other members of the family can assist, then that may be the best place for you.”
He said that Cummings has the Prime Minister’s “full support”, and added: “Mr Cummings is in the public eye but the reality is that the four-year-old child’s welfare is the important thing.”
Mr Shapps said it’s for an individual to make a decision on how best to practice lockdown measures – which has not been the message up to now.
He said: “It’s for an individual to make the decision ‘how do I make sure I’ve got enough support around the family’, particularly in the case you are referring to with a potential of both parents ending up being ill and having a young child to look after.
“How do you have that support network around them, and the decision here was to go to that location and stay in that location.
Have you been spoken to by police or fined for making long journeys during lockdown? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
“They don’t then need to move around from there and so it would be for each individual to work out the best way to do that, which is what’s happened here.”
Appearing to dismiss the controversy, the Transport Secretary said that families will quarantine in different ways.
Mr Shapps added: “You have to get yourself in lockdown and do that in the best and most practical way – and I think that will be different for different people under whatever circumstances, their particular family differences, happen to dictate, that’s all that’s happened in this case.”
Mr Shapps said the Prime Minister knew Cummings was ill, but would not be drawn on whether Boris Johnson knew his advisor had travelled to Durham.
And appearing to become irritated with questions about Cummings’ actions, Mr Shapps said: “This wasn’t to visit a holiday home, this was to stay at home.”
Asked to clarify guidance about travelling during lockdown, Dr Jenny Harries said it was “clear” someone with symptoms should self-isolate along with their family.
Dr Harries added that “built in” to all guidance to protect the vulnerable “there is always an element which says safeguarding”.
She said: “So we don’t want an elderly person sitting at home without their medication because they feel they can’t come out.”
Dr Harries said if there was a “safeguarding issue” where a child had “no support”, that was also an issue.
“There’s always a safeguarding clause in all of the advice,” she said, adding: “The interpretation of that advice is probably for others.”
Labour has called for an inquiry into the incident.
In a letter to Sir Mark Sedwill, Labour’s Rachel Reeves says: “The British people have made important and painful sacrifices to support the national effort, including being away from family in times of need.
“It is therefore vital that the Government can reassure the public that its most senior figures have been adhering to the same rules as everyone else.”
Today the UK’s Covid-19 death toll has risen to 36,675 – an increase of 282 since yesterday, figures from the Department of Health show.
Earlier today the UK’s hospital death toll passed 29,500, with a 12-year-old child among the latest casualties.
Earlier today the UK’s hospital death toll today passed 29,500, with a 12-year-old child among the latest casualties.
It comes with Downing Street and police at odds over whether the PM’s aide Dominic Cummings was spoken to by offiers.
Number 10 has come out fighting, claiming that “at no point” was the controversial advisor approached by officers over allegations he’d broken lockdown rules.
It followed an earlier statement by Durham Constabulary saying the opposite.
Cummings has admitted driving more than 250 miles to a home near his family – despite the government’s own rules telling people to stay at home.
But he has claimed he “behaved reasonably and legally”, and cabinet members have defended his actions on social media.
Durham Constabulary said in a statement on Friday that officers contacted the owners of a property on March 31, more than a week after the lockdown had been imposed by the PM, when they were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London .
Speaking on Friday, a spokesman for the force said: “On Tuesday, March 31, our officers were made aware of reports that an individual had travelled from London to Durham and was present at an address in the city.
“Officers made contact with the owners of that address, who confirmed that the individual in question was present and was self-isolating in part of the house.
“In line with national policing guidance, officers explained to the family the arrangements around self-isolation guidelines and reiterated the appropriate advice around essential travel.”
The force declined to update its statement after the Downing St comment.