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Matt Hancock has been told rushing the NHS Test and Trace system is “not a laughing matter” as he denied suggestions that the launch date was pushed forward to distract the public from the Dominic Cummings row.
But it came amid warnings that “very key parts” of the programme, like the accompanying NHSX tracing app, were still missing while MPs now say they understand that the system will not be fully operational until the end of June.
Sky News presenter Kay Burley asked Mr Hancock on Thursday if the Government had rushed into launching the system without the app in order to take the spotlight away from Mr Cummings.
Mr Hancock began laughing at the suggestion, saying: “It’s priceless, Kay. I’m normally accused of delaying these things and bringing them in too slowly.
“I committed to getting this system in in mid-May. You can’t accuse me of rushing and it being delayed.”
Burley then highlighted that Mr Hancock had previously said the app was essential to the track and trace system and that the technology was meant to be ready for widespread use in May.
“The app is still not ready until next week at the earliest, maybe after that, and yet you have brought this forward,” she said.
“I suppose many of my viewers will think it is not a laughing matter.”
Mr Hancock replied: “I can’t quite work out if you’re telling me I’ve gone too slow or too fast”, before adding: “We’ve brought it in at just the right speed.”
He insisted the app’s Isle of Wight pilot trial showed that it was right to press ahead without the phone technology.
The Health Secretary said: “The app is helpful, it is working on the Isle of Wight, but there’s a reason we haven’t brought it in right at the start, which is that asking people to isolate, even if they’re healthy, because the NHS has got in contact and informed them that they are in higher risk because they’ve been in contact with somebody who has tested positive, that is quite a big change.
“One of the things we learnt in the pilot on the Isle of Wight was that getting people used to that idea is important to do before we then also add the technological capability, the app, on top.”
Mr Hancock also confirmed that people who have had or believe they have already had coronavirus cannot avoid self-isolating if told to do so.
He said: “The science says that there is a likelihood that those of us who have had it have a lower risk but we are not yet confident in that and we’re currently doing the research to find out, if it’s true, that those of us who have had it can’t transmit it.”