Covid-19: PM and chancellor to self-isolate in U-turn

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The prime minister and chancellor will now self-isolate after contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for coronavirus.

The reversal comes just hours after they said they would take part in a pilot scheme involving daily testing instead of self-isolation.

Opposition parties had said it suggested there was "one rule for them and another for the rest of us".

Downing Street said Boris Johnson will conduct meetings remotely at Chequers.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said on Twitter: "Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren't the same for everyone is wrong."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister and chancellor had been "busted yet again for thinking the rules that we are all following don't apply to them".

"The public have done so much to stick to the rules. At a time when we need to maintain confidence in self isolation, parents, workers and businesses will be wondering what on earth is going on in Downing Street," he said.

"The way the prime minister conducts himself creates chaos, makes for bad government and has deadly consequences for the British public."

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Labour's Jonathan Ashworth had earlier told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show that it was unfair that politicians appeared to have access to "VIP testing" to avoid self-isolation, while Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey asked if it was only available to "the privileged few".

The managing director of the Iceland supermarket, Richard Walker, also criticised the proposal for Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak to avoid self-isolation.

"Shame the hundreds of Iceland staff who've been pinged can't avoid self-isolation. We can all do a daily lateral flow test," he said.

Meanwhile, Transport for London – one of the organisations also involved in the pilot according to the government – said it was "still waiting for formal notification that we are part of this trial". One London Underground line was forced to close on Saturday because too many staff had to self-isolate.

'One of the fastest government U-turns ever'

This must be one of the fastest government U-turns ever: 157 minutes after saying the PM and chancellor wouldn't be isolating, Downing Street decided they would.

The reason is set out by Rishi Sunak on Twitter – ministers can't be seen to be following different rules to everyone else.

But questions will be asked about why No 10 initially said they would be escaping isolation. Who made the decision? Who signed it off? The prime minister and chancellor must have known about the plan.

There's also the fact that the PM and chancellor had the choice over whether to isolate – which most people don't at the moment.

The political symbolism is also highly significant. Three senior government ministers will be in isolation on the day almost all legal restrictions are lifted in England.

Mr Javid tested positive on Saturday morning after a meeting at Downing Street the day before, and both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

No 10 had said a workplace pilot scheme would allow the prime minister and chancellor to keep working from Downing Street by taking daily tests. A spokesman said they would only be able to carry out essential government business and would self-isolate at all other times.

Stepping in for Mr Javid, who is self-isolating after his positive test, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick had defended the plan on the Andrew Marr Show.

"The scheme is a well known and long-standing one, it's not just available for politicians," he said. But he added that his own department was not part of the scheme.

The government said there were 20 public and private sector organisations involved in the pilot scheme, including Network Rail, Transport for London, Heathrow and Border Force.

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Case numbers are continuing to rise ahead of the lifting of legal rules on social contact in England on Monday, but businesses have raised concerns about staff shortages due to the numbers of people being told to self-isolate.

More than half a million alerts telling people to self-isolate were sent by the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales in the first week of July, with unions saying it was causing "havoc" on production lines.

Absences from school have also surged, with 840,000 pupils self-isolating in the first week of July and fears that some children are being kept off school to prevent isolation from interfering with

Mr Jenrick said self-isolation was "an important part of keeping the virus under control", adding that a study had showed the NHS Covid app had prevented 600,000 infections and 8,000 deaths.

However, he said the government was ending self-isolation in England for entire school bubbles on Monday and from 16 August fully vaccinated people will not have to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive.

Mike Cherry, national chairman of The Federation of Small Businesses, said the government should now urgently review whether it should bring forward the changes to self-isolation.

"It could expand the pilot scheme that ministers currently enjoy to those at the front line of the economy," he said.

Mr Javid is the latest in a series of government figures to test positive during the pandemic, including his predecessor Matt Hancock and Mr Johnson.

The health secretary said on Twitter that he had felt "a bit groggy" on Friday and took a rapid lateral flow test the following morning, which was later confirmed with a PCR test.

In addition to the meeting at Downing Street, Mr Javid had been working from his office at the Department of Health and Social Care in Whitehall last week and was in the Commons chamber three times.

He is also known to have visited a care home in south London on Tuesday. Aashna House in Streatham has a 100% vaccination rate among staff and residents, however.

In other developments:

  • Mr Jenrick said the government was "very sympathetic" to giving children aged 12 to 17 Covid vaccines and a decision would be made within days. But he said those just under 18, those with conditions that made them vulnerable and those who live with vulnerable people are likely to be prioritised
  • Prof Neil Ferguson, a key government scientific adviser, has warned this wave of the virus could take until mid-August to mid-September to peak. He said it would be a success if daily cases peaked at just over 100,000 and hospital admissions at 1,000 a day, and said that there could be another 500,000 cases of long Covid
  • Funding has been awarded to 15 new studies into long Covid, covering causes and potential treatments for everything from brain fog to ongoing breathlessness

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  • THE SHOCKING FALL OF A SUPER-INFLUENCER: The influencer who claimed she had cancer

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