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'We live in a free country': Stanley Johnson backs Hancock's playing rugby with sons in London park

Stanley Johnson has backed Matt Hancock's decision to play rugby with his two sons in busy parks twice over the weekend.

The Health Secretary today announced that he is isolating until Sunday after being 'pinged' by the NHS coronavirus app.

But, strolling in the same park Mr Hancock was pictured in, Boris Johnson's father insisted he was right to defy the Prime Minister's pleas for everyone to stay home because 'we live in a free country'.

Asked if the MP had made the right decision, Mr Johnson, 80, said: 'Of course he did. We live in a free country and should be able to do that. And look at the wide open spaces here.

'After all, you and I are easily social distancing. It is not a problem at all.'

Mr Hancock was spotted out in busy London parks twice over the weekend playing rugby with his sons, despite Boris Johnson entreating the public to stay at home as much as possible. Taking daily exercise is permitted. 

Strolling in the same park Mr Hancock was pictured in, Stanley Johnson, the Prime Minister's 80-year-old father, insisted the Health Secretary was right to defy his son's pleas for everyone to stay home because 'we live in a free country'

Stanley Johnson raises his coffee cup to the camera today as he takes a stroll through a north London park

Mr Johnson strolling through the same park where Mr Hancock was pictured over the weekend

The Cabinet minister was spotted covered in mud in a London park near his home on Saturday (pictured) and Sunday 

 Matt Hancock was seen wearing a hoodie and covered in mud as he played a game of rugby with his sons in a local park on Sunday 

Try time: The Health Secretary dives over the line as he sons try to tackle him on Sunday 

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he will be staying at home until Sunday after receiving the notification

However, as his isolation is scheduled to end at 11.59pm on Saturday and the standard quarantine period is 10 days it appears his contact must have happened before then - most likely Wednesday. 

Mr Hancock attended meetings in Downing Street that day, January 13.   

He led a press conference on Monday night with medical chiefs Susan Hopkins and Stephen Powis. Under the rules, they are not expected to have to self-isolate unless Mr Hancock is confirmed as positive with the virus. 

Why DOES Matt Hancock need to self-isolate if he's had Covid before? And does his family need to stay at home?

Even though Matt Hancock was struck down with Covid last April, the Health Secretary must still self-isolate after being 'pinged' by the NHS app.

Official Test and Trace guidance says coronavirus survivors 'probably have some immunity' against the disease, which would theoretically protect them from being struck down again.

But scientists have yet to prove exactly how long this lasts for, meaning they can't be sure that Mr Hancock — or other people who have already beaten the illness — won't get re-infected. 

Public Health England researchers last week claimed most Covid survivors are unlikely to catch the illness again for at least five months. 

But the PHE academics — who studied thousands of NHS workers — found 44 reinfections in 6,600 volunteers with antibodies, saying some survivors can still catch the illness again. 

And experts claimed even those who are immune may still carry the virus in their nose and throat and therefore have a risk of spreading it to others.

Professor Susan Hopkins, one of PHE's top officials, said the findings proved it was 'crucial that everyone continues to follow the rules'. 


Mr Hancock's family will only have to self-isolate with him if he gets a cough, fever or loses his sense of smell or taste, NHS guidance says. 

If he develops symptoms, he must get tested. Anyone he lives with must also stay-at-home until he has received his swab result. 

If it came back negative, Mr Hancock's family would then be allowed to leave quarantine. 

But if his result was positive, anyone he lives with must self-isolate for 10 days from when his symptoms first began. 

The PHE study found the two patients who had 'probable reinfections' both experienced less severe symptoms the second time round.  

The app alert is triggered when it detects you have come into close contact with someone who later tests positive, but it is understood Mr Hancock does not know who that was.

Mr Hancock will not be taking a test as he has no symptoms, although even if he was negative he would still be required to self-isolate.  

Mr Johnson - who had coronavirus at the same time as Mr Hancock last spring - has also since been forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with a Tory MP it later emerged was infected.   

In a video posted on Twitter from his home, Mr Hancock said: 'Last night I was pinged by the NHS coronavirus app, so that means I'll be self-isolating at home, not leaving the house at all until Sunday.

'This self-isolation is perhaps the most important part of all the social distancing because I know from the app I've been in close contact with somebody who has tested positive and this is how we break the chains of transmission.

'So you must follow these rules like I'm going to. I've got to work from home for the next six days, and together, by doing this, by following this, and all the other panoply of rules that we've had to put in place, we can get through this and beat this virus.'

Former Chancellor George Osborne today suggested that ministers should get priority for vaccines, although again that would not exempt Mr Hancock from isolation as it is not certain that people who have had jabs cannot transmit the virus.

'It's a peculiarly British trait that we rightly make vaccinating millions of health workers a priority, but we can't spare a single dose for the Health Secretary leading the response to the pandemic,' Mr Osborne said. 

But the Prime Minister's spokesman said: 'The PM and the rest of the Cabinet will take the vaccine when it's their turn to do so based on the priority lists that have been published.

'We don't think it's right that the PM or other members of Cabinet take the vaccine in place of somebody who is at higher clinical risk.'

He said that Mr Hancock was following the rules and exercising when the Cabinet minister was seen in a park in London over the weekend.

'We've been clear that everybody needs to follow the guidance and it remains the case that people are allowed outside to exercise which is what I believe Matt Hancock was doing,' the spokesman said.

The news emerged as new figures showed around one in eight people in private households in England had been infected with coronavirus by December 2020. 

This is up from an estimated one in 11 people in November and one in 14 in October, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The figures are the proportion of the population who are likely to have tested positive for antibodies to Covid-19, based on blood test results from a sample of people aged 16 and over.

Former Chancellor George Osborne today suggested that ministers should get priority for vaccines, although again that would not exempt Mr Hancock from isolation as it is not certain that people who have had jabs cannot transmit the virus

Boris Johnson - who had coronavirus at the same time as Mr Hancock last spring - has also since been forced to self-isolate after coming into contact with a Tory MP it later emerged was infected 

Matt Hancock tonight revealed more than 4million Britons have now had a coronavirus vaccine, amid mounting claims that a 'postcode lottery' has left vulnerable people in certain areas unprotected

Ministers are pressurising their own Government to end the vaccine postcode lottery amid fears the most vulnerable in some areas are being left behind

The ONS also found 'substantial variation' between regions in England, with 17 per cent of people in private households in Yorkshire & the Humber estimated to have tested positive for antibodies in December, compared with 5 per cent in south-west England.

Meanwhile, SAGE has raised fears millions of people could start to ignore coronavirus restrictions once they have been vaccinated.

Government scientists advising the PM fear that many people will 'probably abandon' social distancing and lockdown rules once they have had the jab.

More than 4million Britons have now had a Covid vaccine and ministers believe they are on track to hit the 13.9million target by February 15, which could spell an end to the endless cycle of restrictions.

Whitehall insiders hope most adults will have been inoculated by the end of June.

The problem was highlighted as police revealed they have handed out nearly 30,000 fines to lockdown flouters in England, taking the total to more than £6million.

Minutes from a SAGE meeting, seen by The Telegraph, cite a survey which estimates just under a third of people will adhere to the restrictions less strictly once they have had a vaccine, while 11 per cent will 'probably no longer follow the rules.'

The minutes from the December 17 meeting state: 'There is a risk that changes in behaviour will offset the benefits of vaccination, particularly in the early months of vaccine rollout.'

When did Hancock come into 'close contact' with someone with Covid?   

The NHS coronavirus app 'pings' users when they have been in close contact with someone who was infected.

It works by tracking what mobile phones have been near a device belonging to someone who tests positive.

That means that the alerts are retrospective - as it takes time for symptoms to develop and the diagnosis to be confirmed.

The software also gives no indication who it was that you have been in contact with. 

Matt Hancock said he received his 'ping' last night, and he has been told to self-isolate until Sunday.

As the quarantine period is 10 days, that suggests he was in contact with the individual last Wednesday or Thursday.

Mr Hancock was pictured attending meetings in Downing Street on Wednesday

On Thursday the core 'Covid O' Cabinet committee met to discuss the Brazil variant, although it is not known if Mr Hancock was there in person. 

On both Saturday and Sunday Mr Hancock was spotted out in London parks playing rugby with his children.

And last night the Health Secretary led a press briefing in Downing Street accompanied by medical chiefs Susan Hopkins and Stephen Powis. 

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