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Michael Gove heaps praise on under-fire Matt Hancock and reveals 17,000 coronavirus contact tracers now recruited

Michael Gove and Matt Hancock.

3 min read

Michael Gove has paid tribute to his “energetic and determined” Cabinet colleague Matt Hancock as he revealed more than 17,000 coronavirus contact tracers have now been recruited for the job.

The Cabinet Office minister heaped praise on the under-fire Health Secretary, amid tensions between Mr Hancock and Number 10 over his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mr Hancock - who set a mid-May deadline for an 18,000-strong “army” of contact tracers as part of plans to map and contain the spread Covid-19 - is said to have urged Boris Johnson to give him “a break” during a grilling over his department’s response.

A senior government source told the Mail on Sunday last week that Mr Hancock was on “borrowed time” and had “fallen out with the most powerful figures in the Government”, including Mr Johnson.

But Mr Gove, who revealed that “just over 17,000 of the contact tracers” had now been recruited - told Sky News’ Niall Paterson: “Here I have to praise the work of the Health Secretary Matt Hancock.”

He added: “In the past, people have seen Matt and the Government set ambitious targets and they’ve said ‘oh the target on testing, that won’t be met’. 

“Matt met that target. It’s now the case that more than 17,000 people have been recruited for contact tracing, so we’re on course to meet that target again. 

“It’s more evidence that we have in Matt an energetic and determined Health Secretary who is throwing everything into the fight against the virus and making sure that we mobilise a united national effort.”

Contact tracing, which involves establishing all those who may have come into contact with someone who displays symptoms of the virus, is seen as a key part of plans to lift the UK’s long-running lockdown.

Under a “test, track and trace” strategy outlined by Mr Hancock earlier this month, a smartphone app to help map the outbreak was intended to be rolled out nationwide by mid-May.

The most recent update from ministers - provided by Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on Friday - appeared to suggest recruitment plans were way off-track, as he disclosed that just 1,500 people were in contact tracing posts at the start of last week.

But Mr Gove said the contact tracing scheme would be in place by “the end of this month”.


Elsewhere in his Sky News appearance, Mr Gove said Boris Johnson himself was “in good form” and “showing great leadership” after the Prime Minister’s own brush with Covid-19 left him needing intensive care treatment.

Insiders told the Sunday Times that Mr Johnson was “knackered” and “on edge” amid the ongoing crisis in Britain’s care homes - and said Number 10 as “desperate” for Conservative MPs to return to the chamber to buoy the Prime Minister at PMQs.

But the Cabinet Office minister said of the PM: “He’s determined, focused, working hard, holding all of us in the Cabinet to account in order to deliver in the fight against Covid and he’s also determined to ensure that we support our public sector workers and throw our arms around them.”

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