Michael Gove has defended police being given data on people told to self-isolate through NHS Test and Trace, saying that officers are operating in a “very proportionate way”.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said police forces will have access to information “on a case-by-case”, enabling them to know if an individual has been told to self-isolate.
Asked if this is counter-productive, Cabinet Office minister Mr Gove said it is appropriate for action to be taken in cases of “persistent, flagrant and deliberate” breaching of the rules.
He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday: “I think that, actually, the behavioural effects show that the majority of people, the overwhelming majority of people, want to be part of a national effort to fight the virus.
“And of course there will be some, a very, very small minority, who will be, you know, heedless of the consequences of their actions.
“But the other thing is, the police, to be fair to them, are operating things. so far as I can see, in a very proportionate way.
“They engage and they explain well before they enforce. We all know that people make innocent errors and an appropriate word can mean that that innocent error can be corrected by any of us.
“But where you do get persistent, flagrant and deliberate breaching of the rules, then it is appropriate for action to be taken.”
Those who fail to self-isolate “without reasonable justification” could have their name, address and contact details passed on to their local authority and then to the police, according to DHSC guidance.
“This may lead to enforcement action being taken against you, which could include you being fined,” it adds.
The Health Service Journal (HSJ) reported that the office of England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, feared the move would put people off from being tested.
People in England are legally required to self-isolate if they test positive for Covid-19, with fines starting at £1,000 for those who fail to do so, rising to £10,000 for repeat offenders or serious breaches.
A Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) expert raised concerns that people will be “afraid” to report having coronavirus symptoms if fines for failing to self-isolate increase.
Professor Lucy Yardley, of the University of Bristol, told the Andrew Marr show: “I think the effect of fines is very likely to be that people will be afraid to report any symptoms.
“Because the consequence can be that not only them, but family members and work colleagues would be asked to self-isolate when they really couldn’t afford to.
“So there’s a real problem with fines.”
People who have received a positive test must isolate for 10 days after displaying symptoms or their test date if they do not have symptoms, while members of their household must isolate for 14 days.
A DHSC spokesman said: “It is a legal requirement for people who have tested positive for Covid-19 and their close contacts to self-isolate when formally notified to do so.
“The Department of Health and Social Care has agreed a memorandum of understanding with the National Police Chiefs Council to enable police forces to have access on a case-by-case basis to information that enables them to know if a specific individual has been notified to self-isolate.
“The memorandum of understanding ensures that information is shared with appropriate safeguards and in accordance with the law. No testing or health data is shared in this process.”