It is up to “individuals” to decide how to practise lockdown measures, Grant Shapps has said, and to decide how to make sure they have enough family support.
The Transport Secretary said it had always been permissible for families to travel to be closer to their relatives as long as they “go to that location and stay in that location”.
When challenged about the decision by the Prime Minister’s top aide Dominic Cummings to travel more than 260 miles to return to his family home after his wife started displaying coronavirus symptoms, Mr Shapps said it was “the best possible option” for the family.
Mr Shapps said on Saturday: “It’s for an individual to make the decision: ‘How do I make sure I’ve got enough support around the family?’
“Particularly in the case you are referring to, with a potential of both parents ending up being ill and having a young child to look after – how do you have that support network around them?”
Mr Shapps continued: “The decision here was to go to that location and stay in that location.
“They don’t then need to move around from there and so it would be for each individual to work out the best way to do that, which is what’s happened here.”
Deputy chief medical officer Jenny Harries added that travelling during the shutdown was and always had been permissible if “there was an extreme risk to life”.
She said there was a “safeguarding clause” attached to all the advice to prevent vulnerable people being stuck at home with no support.
Guidance published by the Government at the start of the lockdown listed the circumstances in which a person may leave their home, stating this was permissible:
– For work, where you cannot work at home;
– When going to shops that are permitted to be open – to get things like food and medicine;
– To exercise or spend time outdoors;
– For any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid illness or injury, escape risk of harm, or to provide care or help to a vulnerable person.
No mention of travelling long distances so that childcare could be provided by relatives was included in the Government’s published guidance.
The Transport Secretary said families had to manage lockdown “in the best and most practical way”.
“I think that will be different for different people under whatever circumstances their particular family differences happen to dictate, that is all that has happened in this case.”
Support for Mr Cummings trickled in from Cabinet members over the course of Saturday.
Michael Gove tweeted: “Caring for your wife and child is not a crime.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Taking care of your wife and young child is justifiable and reasonable, trying to score political points over it isn’t.”
Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, posted: “Protecting one’s family is what any good parent does.”
Elsewhere, the Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said: “Dom Cummings followed the guidelines and looked after his family. End of story.”
The Government’s shutdown guidance did not state that people were free to make sure they had easy access to their family support networks.
It said: “You should not be visiting family members who do not live in your home.
“You should keep in touch with them using phone or video calls.”
The guidance also did not seem to give room for people to travel to a new address in order to get extra help.
It said people were not permitted to stay overnight anywhere other than their main home – including travelling to second homes or staying in caravans.
“Leaving your home – the place you live – to stay at another home is not allowed,” it said.
Only in exceptional circumstances were people allowed to attend relatives’ addresses; for example, to drop off food or medicine to their door.
It added: “If you are showing coronavirus symptoms, or if you or any of your household are self-isolating, you should stay at home – this is critical to staying safe and saving lives.”
In a statement on Saturday, Number 10 acknowledged Mr Cummings’ wife Mary Wakefield had symptoms of coronavirus when the family decided to travel.