Matt Hancock tells Peston: Test and trace could result in repeated self-isolation

Health Secretary Matt Hancock has admitted people could end up repeatedly in self-isolation even if they have had coronavirus when test and trace is launch on Thursday in England.

Speaking to ITV's Peston programme, Mr Hancock explained that due to the number of unknowns still related to coronavirus, quarantining is the safest option, even if someone has already had the respiratory disease, due to the lack of definitive knowledge about antibodies and whether they make you immune from further infection or able to pass the illness on to others.

Asked if some who had recovered from coronavirus would need to self-isolate, Mr Hancock said: "Yes, including me.

"I tested positive, I recovered, and I have had one of these antibody tests, I know I have the antibodies.

"But what we do not yet conclusively know, and this is a million dollar question, is if you have antibodies, does that mean you are both immune to getting the disease yourself again?

"And, critically, does it mean you can't pass the disease on to other people?

"Because some people like children very, very rarely actually get symptoms but they still pass the disease on."

Mr Hancock conceded that test and trace could mean people might end up in a cycle of going in and out of self-isolation.

Mr Hancock said: "That is the nature of it, and that isn't an accident, that's actually by design, because the purpose of this is to seek out those who are highest risk, ask them to self-isolate, which will help us reduce the R, with fewer measures on the whole population."

Credit: ITV News

Mr Hancock was also asked whether we would follow France's abandonment of hydroxychloroquine - an anti-malarial which is not proven to combat coronavirus and which President Donald Trump is taking as a preventative measure against Covid-19.

The health secretary said: "Well, again this is an important clinical question and the clinicians are looking at this right now.

"And naturally because evidence has come out in the last few days about the negative impacts of hydroxychloroquine."

Asked if he might abandon it completely, Mr Hanock replied: "Well it's something that we're looking at and it's absolutely got to be a clinical decision."

The prime minister has said it is a priority to establish if one-metre social distancing was safe, rather than following the current two-metre rule.

Mr Hancock explained why two metres is thought to be safer: "The Scientific Advisory Group are going to look again at this matter but it's a matter of degree, if I explain why it matters.

"Because at one metre, essentially you get the same impact of likelihood of transmission in one minute as you do in 15 minutes at two metres."

  • Watch Peston on ITV at 10.45pm on Wednesday 27 May