Michael Gove has defended long-time ally Dominic Cummings for potentially taking coronavirus from a city hotspot to rural Durham.

Mr Cummings drove 260 miles from London to the North East, which at the time was seeing increasing pressure on NHS services after a spike in infections.

Fearing a surge in rural populations could cripple local health services, the government issued a statement, warning people to stay in their primary residence.

It said: "This guidance is for people planning to visit second homes or holiday premises during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Essential travel does not include visits to second homes, camp sites, caravan parks or similar, whether for isolation purposes or holidays. People should remain in their primary residence.

"Not taking these steps puts additional pressure on communities and services that are already at risk."

On March 27, the day Mr Cummings travelled, hospitals in Durham and Darlington cancelled in-person outpatient appointments and non-elective surgeries to “allow the hospitals to focus on emergency work and emergency respiratory care.”

Hospital admissions in Yorkshire and the North East rose by 35% the following weekend.

Mr Cummings yesterday admitted he had taken his wife, who was displaying Coronavirus symptoms, to his parents’ farm in rural Durham - a 260 mile drive from London.

He said he had not stopped for petrol on the way there, and could not remember if he had stopped on the way back.

Appearing on Sky News, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove defended his long-term ally.

Host Kay Burley asked him: “What regrets do you have that a senior government advisor took Covid-19 from a city hotspot to a rural part of the country, where he then needed to use the services of the National Health Service.”

Mr Gove replied: “It was the case that Dominic made sure that his family unit was in a position, he, his wife and his son, not to infect others and by going to a specific location in Durham and by maintaining social isolation during that period they reduced the risk of anyone else needing to have social contact with them and therefore the risk of the infection spreading.”

Mr Gove claimed an earlier explanation of Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham would have led to less "confusion" about what happened.

He said: "I think it is probably right that, if Dominic had given a full explanation of these events earlier, then some of the confusion that has arisen might not have arisen.

"But, I think, fundamentally, that now he has given an account, all of us can make our minds up, whether we are bishops or broadcasters, about the appropriateness of his actions."

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He said Mr Cummings had taken medical advice around issues with his eyesight and was able to "drive safely".

Asked if Mr Cummings needed to drive to Barnard Castle before going down to London, Mr Gove replied: "I think he was wise to make sure he was comfortable before driving back down to London on the A1, an inevitably busier road, and of course it is the case it was part of the National Police Chiefs' Council's guidance that you could drive at that time to take exercise as well."

Earlier, Former Greater Manchester Police chief constable Sir Peter Fahy said officers are "frustrated" by the Dominic Cummings case, adding it is difficult to see the police's role in controlling lockdown.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There's a lot of confusion and it feels like there's quite a gap between the public narrative and narrative of ministers about the lockdown and what's happening on the street.

"I think it's quite hard to see the role the police have in the future - the rules about the reasons for travel are now very confused, when you see the crowds on Bournemouth and Southend beaches and other places yesterday it's hard to see what role the police have in trying to control that."

Sir Peter, asked if Mr Cummings would have been sent home if an officer had stopped him on his way to Durham, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think at that point in terms of what was the understanding of the regulations and the Government messaging I think it may well be that absolutely he'd have been turned back, as many other people were turned back from things that they were doing."

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On the trip to Barnard Castle, Sir Peter said: "Clearly, number one, that's ill-advised as a means of testing your eyesight as to whether you're fit to drive, but again it's hard to see - unless there's some justification that that was to take daily exercise - how that was justified."

Asked if it was a criminal offence, Sir Peter replied: "It certainly appears to be against the Highway Code, it's not the way to test your eyesight, and put potentially other people in danger."