Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will not be isolating despite being ‘pinged’ after Sajid Javid’s positive COVID test, Downing Street has said.
After Mr Javid, the newly-appointed health secretary, contracted coronavirus and went into quarantine, it was thought a number of other ministers and officials might also have to self-isolate.
But Downing Street said Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak will be taking in a pilot scheme whereby they will be tested daily and so do not have to quarantine.
A Number 10 spokesperson said: “The prime minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for COVID.
“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.
“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”
Mr Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for COVID – only a day after the health secretary reportedly met with Mr Johnson in Downing Street.
This morning, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News: “I appreciate the frustration [the public] might feel listening to this. They, like me, or other members of the public who are pinged will have to self-isolate in the usual way.”
Latest figures show over 500,000 people were pinged by the NHS app in a week, leading to concerns millions could be forced out of work as coronavirus cases rise.
Referring to increasing numbers of people being told to self-isolate, Mr Jenrick he said: “I do appreciate that this is proving to be very challenging.”
There are currently 20 organisations in both the private and public sector – including Downing Street – currently taking part in the workplace pilot testing scheme that has exempted Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak.
These include Network Rail, Transport for London, Heathrow Airport and Border Force.
Typically, anyone identified as a contact by the tracing scheme or NHS app would be required by law to self-isolate for 10 days.
The announcement prompted cross-party condemnation and accusations of double standards, with many MPs pointing out that the majority of the public would still have to self-isolate.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Trevor Phillips on Sunday: “There will be workers across the country that have to isolate because they’ve been pinged, including in public services, including the NHS.
“For many of them, waking up this morning to hear that there is a special rule, an exclusive rule, for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they will be saying that this looks like one rule for them and something else for the rest of us.”
He continued: “Nobody understands how you can get access to this special treatment or VIP lane where you don’t have to isolate yourself.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner tweeted: “By breaking the rules the PM and Chancellor have given millions of people a blank cheque to ignore the rules too. Dangerous and stupid.”
It is a legal requirement to isolate when contacted and instructed to do so by NHS Test and Trace as a close contact of someone with Covid.
By breaking the rules the PM and Chancellor have given millions of people a blank cheque to ignore the rules too. Dangerous and stupid.
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) July 18, 2021
Meanwhile, leader of the Liberal Democrats, Ed Davey said: “How about the school teachers, transport workers and health workers getting a chance to be part of this test pilot or is it only for the privileged few?
“People have stuck to the rules and done the right thing, Boris Johnson is taking them for granted.”
And co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said “anger doesn’t begin to cover it”.
He added on Twitter: “Hundreds of thousands of young people, including my children, had their education and lives repeatedly turned upside down again and again after dutifully and responsibly isolating. And now this.”
Dr Ellie Cannon, an NHS GP and Mail on Sunday columnist, also criticised the government.
She wrote on Twitter: “There have been low points in this pandemic. And then there have been lower points.
“Perhaps the lowest point for me was watching the funeral prayers of an acquaintance who died in particularly difficult circumstances…
“Their own child, mourning their parent’s sudden death, was not allowed in the place of worship with family because they were contact isolating from school.
Asked if the PM has made the right judgement in avoiding self-isolation by taking part in a daily testing scheme, Conservative MP Damian Green told Sky News: “I think, in practical terms, allowing the prime minister and chancellor to work as normally as possible is actually quite sensible.
“I hope one of the effects of this is to accelerate the pilot scheme and, indeed, the analysis of the pilot scheme.
“Because this might be a way out of the current problems of people not being able to go to work.”
Businesses and NHS leaders have been pressing for the NHS app to be overhauled and made less sensitive amid concerns that staff shortages, caused by those self-isolating, will cripple services.
London Underground became the latest to succumb on Saturday when the Metropolitan Line was forced to close because of a lack of control room staff.
While most COVID restrictions lift in England on Monday the rules on self-isolating for contacts of people who test positive are not eased until 16 August.
Then, people who are double-jabbed will be able to take tests rather than quarantine at home.
On Sunday morning Barnard Castle began trending on Twitter, with many people comparing the PM’s failure to self-isolate to when Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules to drive to the tourist-spot.