Coronavirus: PM defends test and trace ahead of stats release

25 June 2020, 06:26

Boris Johnson has defended the NHS Test and Trace service
Boris Johnson has defended the NHS Test and Trace service. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The Government's latest coronavirus test and trace data is set to be announced later as the Prime Minister continues to defend the scheme from criticism.

Official figures for England's NHS Test and Trace service between June 11 and 17, its third week of operation will be released on Thursday by the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).

It comes as Boris Johnson insisted during Prime Minister's Questions that the scheme would tackle any local coronavirus outbreaks and shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said it was a "dismal situation" when there is an app for the Health Secretary, but not one for tracking coronavirus.

The PM's claims come after a question from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over a discrepancy between the estimated number of coronavirus cases in the UK and those covered by test and trace.

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Health Secretary Matt Hancock said the Government was "going to make it work" when it comes to a test and trace app, but refused to give a date when it would be made available.

Speaking to ITV's Robert Peston on Wednesday night about how the app will work, Mr Hancock said people will have to "self-declare" to the NHS if their phone informs them they have been close to someone who has tested positive.

He said: "I'm not going to put a date on it, I want it to work, I'm really glad now that we've got Apple, are working really well, and I'm very grateful to them for coming to the table, and we're going to make it work."

Asked if he supported a "what have we learned" inquiry into the UK's handling of the pandemic, Mr Hancock said: "Well we're constantly doing that sort of thinking ... I haven't seen that proposal ... All I care about is constantly finding out what works, and adapting our response to it, because we are still learning about this virus."

Meanwhile, The Daily Telegraph reported the Government will announce next week that pupils will not be expected to adhere to social distancing while in school.

Schools will instead be asked to focus on introducing strict hygiene regimes and limiting the time children mix with others outside their class or year group.

Responding to the article, the Department for Education said it would publish "further information and guidance next week to help schools prepare for a full return in September".

As we reported, the Government looks set to announce a start date and destinations for a set of so-called "air-bridges" which Brits will be able to visit without having to self-isolate.

France, Italy and Spain are all expected to be included in the first tranche of bridges as they are deemed to be "safe nations", the Sun, Times and Daily Telegraph reported.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has previously indicated air bridges would only be agreed with countries which have a coronavirus test and trace system at the same standard as that used in Britain.

Wednesday saw Mr Johnson and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer spar over the system, with Sir Keir asking at Prime Minister's Questions about the gap between the number of estimated coronavirus cases and those entering the test and trace system.

The Prime Minister said: "What NHS Test and Trace is doing is contacting the vast majority of those who test positive and their own contacts and getting them to self-isolate, and it is a formidable achievement."

Meanwhile, the Government is braced for more bleak financial news as the Office for National Statistics is due to publish the latest indicators for the UK economy later on Thursday.