Johnson and Sunak 'pinged' by NHS Covid app after Javid tests positive for coronavirus

18 July 2021, 08:10 | Updated: 18 July 2021, 11:32

Johnson and Sunak have been pinged by the NHS Covid app after Javid contracted Covid
Johnson and Sunak have been pinged by the NHS Covid app after Javid contracted Covid. Picture: PA / Twitter
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app after Sajid Javid tested positive for coronavirus.

Number 10 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.

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.

Read more: All UK adults offered Covid vaccine ahead of 19 July unlocking

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

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.

Watch: The NHS app is 'wrecking the economy', Lord Bilimoria says

Watch: James O'Brien caller 'absolutely terrified' as 'Freedom Day' looms

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.

The government's press release on the scheme says the "participants will be placed into study groups at random".

But if they develop Covid symptoms or test positive during the study, they must self-isolate immediately and wait for the results of their follow-up PCR test.

Participants must also "reduce close contact with others as far as possible by only making essential trips outside the home".

They will also be asked to avoid:

  • Being in small, poorly ventilated public places for more than 15 minutes
  • Visiting others indoors
  • Using public transport, unless for essential trips
  • Visiting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable, in care homes or hospitals

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."

Mr Johnson has repeatedly said he wants the lifting of lockdown to be "irreversible", but in recent days ministers have begun to sound more cautious.

While social-distancing rules in England will come to an end, government guidelines advise face masks should still be worn in enclosed spaces such as in shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.

Meanwhile, the government is facing calls from businesses to overhaul the NHS Covid app amid growing alarm at the numbers of staff missing work after being "pinged" and told to self-isolate.

The London Underground became the latest to succumb after the Metropolitan line was forced to close on Saturday due to a shortage of control room staff.

Earlier, Mr Javid said he had taken a lateral flow test on Saturday morning after feeling "a bit groggy" the evening before.

He said he had recorded the positive result, despite having had both doses of the vaccine, but was only experiencing "mild" symptoms.

The health secretary was only appointed to the post last month following the resignation of Matt Hancock, who was caught on CCTV kissing an aide in his office in breach of social distancing rules.

Mr Javid is seen by Tory MPs impatient with lockdown measures as being noticeably keener than his predecessor on easing restrictions.

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) insisted no decisions had been made after it was reported that ministers were set to come out against mass vaccinations for teenagers.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that guidance due to be issued on Monday was expected to recommend the vaccine is offered to vulnerable 12 to 15-year-olds and to 17-year-olds who are within three months of turning 18.

It said the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) is believed to have advised against the rollout of vaccines to all children until there is further evidence on the risks involved.

A DHSC spokesman said: "The government will continue to be guided by the advice of the JCVI and no decisions have been made by ministers on whether people aged 12 to 17 should be routinely offered Covid-19 vaccines."