The Cabinet Office minister denied breaking the rules after he was spotted jogging in the park near his London home – despite going into isolation last week when his daughter started showing Covid-19 symptoms.
It emerged that he had been given special permission by Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, to have his daughter tested in order to allow him to return to work to lead Whitehall’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
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But the move is likely to prompt anger over difficulties faced by NHS staff to access testing, meaning some are self-isolating needlessly while others could be spreading the virus to patients.
Asked why Mr Gove’s family were considered a priority, a No 10 spokesperson said: “The test was carried out on the advice of the chief medical officer and in line with medical guidance.
“The minister in charge of the Cabinet Office is a central role in the coronavirus response. Testing a member of the household ensure that Michael Gove could get back to work to drive the government’s response at a difficult time.”
Pressed on whether this was a double standard, the spokesperson said: “No, as I say it was done on the advice of the chief medical officer. The prime minister received a test when he was suffering from symptoms, as did the health secretary.
“Clearly the three ministers which we are talking about all perform critical roles.”
Some 2,630 tests of NHS staff were carried out up to 9am on Sunday, taking the tally for drive through assessments to 42,812 health workers and their families.
Downing Street described the total as “significant” progress from a week ago – and said sickness levels among NHS staff have fallen to 7.7 per cent, compared to 8 per cent last Friday.
Mr Gove entered self isolation last week under guidance that states anyone who lives with someone displaying coronavirus symptoms should stay home for 14 days.
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He revealed his daughter had tested negative for the virus when he was spotted jogging outside on Easter Sunday.
Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is continuing to recuperate at Chequers, his Buckinghamshire retreat, after being discharged from hospital on Sunday.
His official spokesperson said the prime minister tested negative for the virus before leaving hospital.
The spokesperson also told a Westminster briefing: “It is standard practice in hospitals to do that and the results came back negative.”
Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s chief adviser, has not been tested for coronavirus after self-isolating with Covid-19 symptoms.
He remains “in contact” with No 10 but he is not working in Downing Street, the prime minister’s spokesperon said.