Johnson and Sunak will now self-isolate after U-turning on daily Covid testing pilot

18 July 2021, 10:48 | Updated: 18 July 2021, 12:05

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will now sel-isolate
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will now sel-isolate. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have stepped down from the daily Covid testing pilot and will now quarantine, just hours after saying they would avoid self-isolation.

The prime minister and chancellor were both 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for coronavirus.

No10 initially said the pair would participate in a daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.

But just two hours later, amid accusations of double standards, they pulled a full U-turn, withdrawing from the pilot scheme and confirming they would isolate.

Read more: Johnson and Sunak 'pinged' by NHS Covid app

Read more: 'It just takes the p***': Fury before Johnson and Sunak U-turn

A No10 spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid.

"He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate.

"He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.”

Daily contact testing pilot: Why were Johnson and Sunak not going to self-isolate?

NHS Covid app 'Pingdemic' in numbers: Surge in people being told to self-isolate

Meanwhile, the chancellor wrote 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.

"To that end I’ll be self isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot."

Speaking to LBC's Swarbrick on Sunday, shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Tom Swarbrick that "you couldn't make it up could you?".

"When we heard that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were taking advantage of this exclusive VIP test and release scheme, I just thought about all the parents in my constituency in Leicester who've had to cope with their children being sent back home because of the bubble isolation system, or employers struggling because they've had staff off isolating, or indeed the NHS who are struggling because they've got some of their frontline staff off.

"I just thought, 'this looks like one rule for them and another for the rest of us'.

"It really did beggar belief."

He added: "Now they've U-turned on it because they've obviously seen the outcry and the upset across the country, and understandably so, it does call into question what this system is.

"It's quite a coincidence that a supposedly randomised trial included Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and Michael Gove.

"What on earth is going on with it?"

Ministers had been anxiously waiting to hear whether they would need to self-isolate on 'Freedom Day' following the health secretary contracting coronavirus.

Mr Javid confirmed his infection late on Saturday after receiving the result of a full PCR test. Earlier, he had announced via social media that a lateral flow test came back positive for Covid.

In a second message posted on Twitter, he said: "My positive result has now been confirmed by PCR test, so I will continue to isolate and work from home."

NHS Test and Trace quickly began tracking his recent close contacts, but the testing pilot would have meant that neither the prime minister nor chancellor would have needed to quarantine, until they announced their U-turn.

Reports suggest Mr Johnson had a lengthy meeting with the health secretary in No10 on Friday.

However, the PM and chancellor being added to the testing pilot sparked fury after millions of Brits were made to self-isolate after being pinged by the app.

Prior to the U-turn, a No10 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.”

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner criticised the government following the announcement, writing on Twitter: "Sorry for the unparliamentary language but this just takes the p***.

"Not following the rules that they created and which they expect my constituents to follow.

"This government treats the public with contempt and think they are above the law and that the rules don't apply to them."

It comes as scientists voice increasing concern at the prospect of ending all Covid measures on 19 July due to the continued surge of cases.

The Liberal Democrats said that Mr Javid's positive test underlined the case for the government to rethink its plans.

Health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: "This shows no-one is safe from this deadly virus. By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people's lives.

"Right now, they are pursuing a strategy of survival of the fittest, where the young and clinically vulnerable will be left defenceless."