A senior minister today bluntly admitted that Boris Johnson did not ‘get it right’ over his abortive bid to dodge self-isolation rules.
The PM announced yesterday morning that he and Rishi Sunak would use a pilot scheme to escape quarantine with daily testing despite having come into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid – a confirmed positive case.
But Mr Johnson was then forced to execute a comical U-turn amid fury they were flouting restrictions causing misery for millions of Britons and bringing businesses grinding to a halt.
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was forced to deny the government is taking the public for ‘fools’ this morning as he was sent out to defend the shambles while Mr Johnson languishes at his Chequers country residence – where he must stay until next Monday.
‘We make thousands of decisions, and of course we don’t get every decision right,’ Mr Zahawi told ITV’s Good Morning Britain
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi was was forced to deny the government is taking the public for ‘fool’ this morning as he was sent out to defend the shambles
The PM announced yesterday morning that he and Rishi Sunak (pictured on a visit earlier this year) would use a pilot scheme to escape quarantine with daily testing despite having come into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid – a confirmed positive case
‘This has been an extraordinarily challenging time.’
Asked whether the Government had made an error over the pilot scheme, Mr Zahawi said: ‘Of course, and as soon as the Prime Minister realised that this would be wrong, he came out very clearly and said ”We will self-isolate, that’s the right thing to do”.’
Mr Johnson is facing more questions today over the exact sequence of events, after he was mocked last night for a video in which he claimed using the pilot scheme had only been considered ‘briefly’.
Downing Street released a statement at 8am yesterday declaring that they would take advantage of the scheme, and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick then confirmed the news on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.
However, No10 then issued a further statement at around 10.30am saying that the PM would self-isolate, while Mr Sunak tweeted to announce he would obey the quarantine.
Downing Street said Mr Johnson had been contacted by tracers while at Chequers after a face-to-face meeting with Mr Javid on Sunday.
Mr Javid tested positive on Saturday morning, but it is not clear when Mr Johnson was notified. If he was contacted on Saturday his ‘brief’ consideration of using the pilot scheme could have lasted a day, and potentially exposed staff.
There is also confusion over whether Transport for London was part of the pilot. No10 pointed to the organisation’s staff being covered by the exemption yesterday, but it suggested that was not the case.
Mr Zahawi appeared unaware of the situation in interviews this morning, speculating that TfL might have been on the scheme previously and dropped out.
Freedom Day officially went ahead today despite the muddle.
But the lifting of almost all legal restrictions has merely fuelled fears about spiking cases bringing the economy grinding to a halt, as more and more people are doomed to house arrest.
Experts estimate around 1.8million people are still self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace.
And many firms say their sites are having to open with reduced hours or shut completely because up to a quarter of staff are off as a precautionary measure. The Road Haulage Association has warned of impending chaos in supply chains, with chief executive Rod Mackenzie telling the FT: ‘Far from freedom day being freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day.’
In a key concession today, frontline NHS workers will be exempted from the rules to prevent hospitals having to cancel operations because of staff shortages.
But this morning vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to dash hopes that the exemption could be ditched for the double-jabbed before August 16, as well as suggesting that the sensitivity of the app will remain the same for the time being.
Iceland supermarket boss Richard Walker accused the Government of ‘squandering the advantages’ of its successful vaccination programme by forcing double-jabbed people to self-isolate, adding: ‘We’re behaving like it’s the dark days of March 2020’.
A YouGov poll for The Times found that a majority of the public does not support Freedom Day going ahead
Humphrey Cobbold, the CEO of PureGym, which has more than 1.1million members in 287 sites, said: ‘We’ve been talking internally about living in the United Pingdom and it’s become a huge challenge for individuals and businesses’, adding his staff are ‘being pinged all the time’.
He added: ‘Up to 25 per cent of our staff in some areas have been asked to self-isolate. Through flexibility we’ve been able to keep sites open so far but it’s been a really close call. I think there is a different way to react to the pings for the double vaccinated and using lateral flow tests that would keep the economy functioning’.
Greene King pub boss Nick MacKenzie said: ‘It’s a problem and it could get worse. It is disruptive to the business. We had to close 33 pubs in the past week because of a lack of staff and across the industry we think it is one in 5 who have been affected by this and therefore it is causing us a real issue on a daily basis. We are having to have shorten hours in certain circumstances.’
He added: ‘We need clarity from government on how the app works and we need to move to a test and release scheme where people can take a lateral flow test every day and get back to work and some sort of normality’.