As England prepares to lift Covid-19 restrictions, Boris Johnson goes into self-isolation

As England pushes ahead with a controversial decision to lift remaining coronavirus restrictions on Monday – dubbed “Friday Day” by the British press – Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak are in self-isolation after meeting Friday with Health Minister Sajid Javid, who was has since tested positive for Covid-19.

The UK government was agitated on Sunday by its own rules on Covid self-isolation, as it controversially prepares to abolish pandemic curbs in England.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Finance Minister Rishi Sunak will work remotely for the next week after coming into contact with a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said.

Health Minister Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid-19 and has now been in self-isolation for 10 days.

According to the Sunday Times, he had a “long” meeting with Johnson on Friday. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.

Javid also appeared in parliament alongside ministers last week, and a government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”

Initially, a Downing Street spokesperson said both Johnson and Sunak were taking part in a government pilot that will allow them to continue working from their offices, while isolating themselves outside of work.

But in an update following a storm of anger at the announcement, the spokesperson changed his mind, saying neither officials were participating in the pilot but would conduct business remotely.

Johnson will remain at the Prime Minister’s country retreat in Checkers northwest of London, where he was staying when contacted by Covid investigators from the National Health Service (NHS).

The exception for the special pilot had caused a stir among social media users and opposition politicians after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay at home under investigation rules.

“Sorry for the unparliamentary language, but this is just the pi**,” Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter.

“This government treats the public with contempt and thinks they are above the law and the rules don’t apply to them,” she wrote.

The development came just as the Johnson government is preparing to lift most of the pandemic restrictions in England on Monday, despite the daily infection rate now exceeding 50,000 – behind only Indonesia and Brazil.

‘pingdemic’

The government is insisting that now two-thirds of the adult population is fully vaccinated, risk can be controlled, and Monday has been dubbed “Freedom Day” by many British media.

Housing Minister Robert Jenrick told the BBC it was still the “logical time” to replace legal dictates with “personal judgment”, thanks to the school holidays starting this week and the onset of warmer weather.

But on Sky News, he admitted that the current wave of the pandemic may not peak until September, saying, “There are some pretty challenging weeks ahead.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the Labor Party’s health spokesperson, said the government was “reckless” with its plans for Monday, echoing many scientists who say the reopening threatens global health.

“We are against opening without any precautions,” Ashworth told the BBC, attacking in particular the government’s plan to drop a mask-wearing mandate.

Under the plan for England, all restrictions on social mixing and an order to work from home will be lifted. Nightclubs are allowed to open again and sports stadiums, cinemas and theaters can run at full capacity.

The spate of infections that swept Britain, according to the latest data, led more than 530,000 people to be instructed by an NHS app to self-isolate in the week to 7 July.

Some companies, such as carmaker Nissan, are losing staff massively after being pinged by the app – in a brewing crisis described as a “ping demic” by British newspapers.

Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line being completely suspended.

Sunday newspapers carry industry warnings of food shortages as many more staff are forced home.

As of August 16, people who have been fully vaccinated will no longer need to self-isolate after close contact, but the government is under pressure to make that change.

Jenrick told Sky that the fact that Johnson and Sunak have been contacted “proves that the system is working” for now.

(AFP)

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