The UK’s islands could see coronavirus lockdown measures lifted first as part of a trial run for the rest of the country, a senior cabinet minister has suggested.
Michael Gove, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, told a committee of MPs on Wednesday that “pilot” schemes for easing COVID-19 restrictions could take place within island communities.
Appearing via video link before the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee, Mr Gove said he favoured the UK staying in and then leaving the coronavirus lockdown as “one”.
This is in contrast to regional variations in the lifting of lockdown measures within some other European countries.
For example, France has classified each of its 101 departments as red, orange or green depending on their infection level.
But Mr Gove added there was a “specific scientific justification” for the UK’s islands being used to bring in changes to social distancing rules.
He said: “My own personal view is that it’s preferable that we do it as one United Kingdom.
“But there is a specific scientific justification for saying that island communities can be areas where you can pilot some measures – contract-tracing in particular – in order to combine that with relaxing measures at a progressively greater rate.
“And that can help you judge what is right for the country overall.
“Different European countries are adopting regional variation – my belief is, overall, it’s better if we do it as one United Kingdom but there are specific opportunities in island communities to conduct trials.”
Mr Gove highlighted how fellow Conservative Bob Seely, the Isle of Wight MP, had suggested carrying out contact-tracing – the identification of anyone who has recently been in close contact with an infected individual – in his constituency before it is rolled-out on a large scale across the rest of the UK.
“If we do that, we might be able to use the Isle of Wight as an opportunity to see how we can relax those measures,” Mr Gove added.
“I think similar suggestions have been made by some of the island communities in Scotland but, obviously, that’s a matter for the Scottish government.”
Mr Gove also spoke of how, before the UK entered its lockdown on 23 March, it was proposed that only London be subject to stringent measures.
“The point was made it would be difficult to police,” Mr Gove said.
“If you say that someone has to observe social distancing rules and can’t go to the pub in Kingston, what happens if they go over the River Thames and go to the pub in Surrey?
“It becomes difficult to manage and it was felt it was appropriate to do it on a nationwide basis.
“I think it has been effective because we have seen the virus spread and there have been flashpoints and outbreaks across the UK, which have been worrying and concerning.”