More emergency workers to avoid self-isolation as testing in England expanded

24 July 2021, 11:42 | Updated: 25 July 2021, 07:50

More emergency workers will now be able to avoid self-isolation guidance
More emergency workers will now be able to avoid self-isolation guidance. Picture: Alamy
Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

More frontline emergency workers can avoid self-isolation after the government expanded workplace testing in England to an initial extra 200 sites.

Police, fire, Border Force, freight and transport staff are will be free to join the testing regime even if they have not been vaccinated, with the sites expected to open on Monday at the earliest.

It comes after ministers were fiercely criticised for their self-isolation policy that has led to the so-called 'pingdemic' keeping key workers away from their jobs.

Some police, firefighters, Border Force and transport personnel were already eligible for the quarantine exemption, but only if their employers specified their names and if they had received both Covid jabs.

Read more: Free fully-vaxxed from having to isolate sooner than August, PM told

Read more: Thousands of critical workers freed from 'pingdemic' isolation

On Saturday, the government said the 200 testing sites would be opened so daily contact testing could be "rolled out to further critical workplaces in England".

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: "Daily testing will keep our frontline teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country."

It comes following ministers announcing on Thursday that the programme would allow thousands of food sector workers at up to 500 sites to avoid self-isolation if identified as a contact of a coronavirus case, and instead take daily Covid tests.

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Frustration with the government's self-isolation policy has been growing over the past few days, with food industry bosses condemning changes to ease the 'pingdemic' as "worse than useless".

Meanwhile, hospitality leaders warned of a summer of closures and train operators were forced to cut services.

Pressure has mounted on Downing Street to bring forward the date at which people who have had both jabs can avoid self-isolation.

There were increasing calls for Boris Johnson to bring forward his wider relaxation of quarantine rules for the fully-vaccinated from 16 August as businesses were hampered by staff being told to isolate due to soaring cases.

In an attempt to calm the concerns of industry, ministers published a limited list of sectors whose double-jabbed workers are eligible to avoid isolation if they undergo daily testing before the wider easing of rules for England.

However, industry leaders said the move did not include sufficient workers.

Meanwhile, doctors warned the problem is that the prime minister has let the virus "rip" and not the "pings" being issued by the NHS Covid-19 app.

Mounting criticism of No10 came as data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed Covid-19 cases continued to rise, with around one in 75 people in England infected.

The estimate of the number testing positive - 741,700 - in the week to 17 July is the highest since the week to 30 January.