The government has reportedly denied it will launch a review into fines issued to parents during lockdown after Matt Hancock said he would "look at" refunds for people penalised for making similar journeys to Dominic Cummings.
Ministers have spent days insisting that Mr Cummings, who contradicted government advice by driving over 200 miles to his parents' estate in Durham at the height of the pandemic, did nothing wrong – insisting he needed to make the journey for childcare reasons.
Asked at a daily Downing Street press conference whether people who were fined for doing the same thing as Boris Johnson's top aide could have their charges refunded, Mr Hancock pledged to go over the issue with the Treasury.
Hinting that the discussions could lead to a formal announcement, he said: "I will have to talk to my Treasury colleagues before I can answer it in full, and we'll look at it. And if we can get your details, we'll make sure that we write to you with a full answer and make an announcement from this podium. I think we can make this commitment."
However, reports now suggest any review of fines is unlikely. One source told ITV News the government “doesn’t think that it’s going to have to pay any of those fines back, or there’s anything to review.”
Meanwhile, a government adviser told Sky News there would be no “formal review” of lockdown fines.
Shadow home secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds said the question over the scrapping of fines needed an urgent answer from home secretary Priti Patel.
Following reports a formal review was unlikely to take place, Mr Thomas-Symonds said: “It's now been made incredibly difficult to police vital public health guidance, as this flip-flop over fines shows.
The Treasury and the Home Office referred inquries to the Department of Health and Social Care, which, when contacted, said it had nothing further to add to Mr Hancock's comments.
Mr Cummings said that on 28 March he woke up “in pain and clearly had Covid symptoms, including a bad headache and a serious fever” and is confirmed to have driven up to Durham from London two days later despite the strict instructions to self-isolate.
On 12 April, while lockdown was still ongoing, Mr Cummings and his family were seen walking by the River Tees in Barnard Castle, a local beauty spot 30 miles from Durham. That date is also the birthday of Mr Cummings’ wife, but the top government adviser has claimed the trip with with his family was to test his eyesight and whether he was well enough to drive back to London.
Asked by a member of the public whether those who had been fined by the police for making journeys for childcare purposes could be refunded, Mr Hancock said the question was "perfectly reasonable".
The health secretary also announced that the government is looking at ways to loosen the lockdown and allow people to visit friends and family in other households.
"We are on 1 June proposing to make a series of changes, including from the middle of June starting to open up non-essential retail and from 1 June having schools accept children in reception year, year 1 and year 6," he said.
"But, as you say, there's also a yearning to see people in another household and we are looking at how we can make this happen in a safe way."
Guidelines currently state that people are allowed to meet only one other person from another household, and only in a public place such as a park.
Mr Hancock also said that, as part of the NHS test-and-trace system, local lockdowns will be introduced in areas where there is a resurgence of the coronavirus. He said: "Yes, we will have local lockdowns in future where there are flare-ups, and we have a system we are putting in place – with a combination of Public Health England and the new joint bio-security centre, along with the local directors of public health who play an absolutely crucial role in the decision-making in the system – to make sure if there is a local flare-up, there is a local lockdown."
In addition, Mr Hancock said the NHS was now receiving enough personal protective equipment (PPE) that it could start to rebuild its stockpile instead of just meeting demand. Many medics have complained about an under-supply of equipment, and advice on reusing it has been changed during the crisis to make supplies last longer.
“We’ve been working hard to build our supplies of personal protective equipment," he said. “I know how important this is, especially to colleagues on the front line.
The health secretary added: “There is a lot further to go on PPE, as on so many things, but we have made significant progress, and I’d like to thank everybody involved."
Coverage of the ongoing pandemic has focused on Boris Johnson's refusal to sack Mr Cummings for breaking the lockdown with his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle. A new YouGov poll on Tuesday found that 71 per cent of the public believe the aide broke the rules and that a clear majority also believes he should resign.
Additional reporting by Press Association