Sajid Javid isolated himself on Saturday after testing positive for Covid, as public health leaders across the UK today accused Boris Johnson of “letting Covid break down” by relaxing legal restrictions.
England’s health secretary, who is fully vaccinated, said he had mild symptoms and had undergone a lateral flow test. Later, he tweeted to confirm the results after running a more accurate PCR test.
It creates a headache for the prime minister. Under the test and trace rules, anyone who has been in contact with Javid in the previous 48 hours would have to isolate themselves. It is understood that the Secretary of Health visited number 10 on Friday. That would leave Johnson in the uncomfortable position of spending so-called “freedom day” stuck at number 10.
Johnson can avoid isolation if he has been participating in a pilot system that allows people to work by taking a daily test.
Last week it was revealed that staff from three government departments had signed up for the pilot scheme. However, Johnson runs the risk of being accused of double standards, as the government continues to urge the public to isolate themselves if told to do so.
The use of the scheme by officials also runs the risk of angering Tory MPs who oppose the strict isolation rules. There have already been calls from conservatives to expand the scheme, warning that allowing ministers to use it would create a “them and us” approach.
Another 54,674 new cases of Covid-19 were announced on Saturday, confirming that the numbers have returned to the levels last seen in January. Another 41 Covid deaths were also announced.
There has been widespread dismay from public health officials at the prime minister’s claim that people must “learn to live” with Covid and “exercise personal responsibility.”
In a letter to the Observer, the four independent UK public health bodies representing more than 130 directors of public health in the UK warn: “Living with Covid-19 is not the same as letting it break down. We must proceed. carefully, not recklessly … The government must promote effective public health measures because personal responsibility will not be enough. “
Senior NHS figures are among those who want Johnson and other prominent ministers to do much more to emphasize the need to continue to follow guidelines, such as wearing masks in closed environments with lots of people. Some are threatening to speak up if more is not done, fearing that the lifting of legal restrictions on social contact on Monday will encourage many to revert to their pre-pandemic behavior.
Dozens of the UK’s leading cancer charities joined forces to make a powerful joint appeal to the public to continue taking action that will help protect those most vulnerable to the virus.
The letter from the public health experts says: “Nobody wants endless cycles of legal restrictions and closures, but the idea that we should relax in the face of increasing numbers of cases is incorrect and detrimental to public health.”
Helping people isolate themselves if they have the virus is a vital tool in limiting the spread of Covid, they say, in addition to wearing masks indoors, socializing outdoors, working from home, opening windows and washing hands.
While the guidance remains the use of masks and social distancing in hospitals, NHS chiefs warn that staff are already confronting those who refuse to wear masks or socially distance themselves. Some trusts said they had been dealing with default for the past three weeks, even before the end of the restrictions.
Many trusts participated in public campaigns this weekend asking the public to continue to obey social distancing rules in their buildings. Chris Hopson, executive director of NHS Providers, asked the prime minister to intervene.
“We need NHS prime ministers, ministers and national leaders to step up and say why the NHS needs to maintain these restrictions, to protect vulnerable patients, and there will be zero tolerance for people who do not follow them. rules or abuse of staff, “he said.
“Fiduciary leaders understand why ministers may be reluctant to do that, because that could be seen to transcend the message about relaxing these restrictions more generally. But ministers have a clear duty to explain why these restrictions must remain in healthcare settings and must protect NHS personnel. “
Unions representing retail staff also made a last-minute call on the prime minister to maintain mask wear and social distancing in the highest-risk settings. Paddy Lillis, general secretary of the Usdaw industrial workers union, said: “It is not the role of our members to enforce the rules. We welcome retailers who continue with security measures, but that is due to the goodwill of the public. We think [Monday] it will make the situation worse. “
Meanwhile, doctors across the country told the Observer they were already facing enormous pressures as rising Covid cases combined with huge levels of emergency admissions, a reduction in NHS capacity and a shortage. of staff fueled by the refusal to relax the Covid isolation rules for health service personnel. A government spokesman said that ministers were looking closely at this issue.
A government spokesman said the restrictions were being relaxed because the vaccine program has weakened the link between cases and hospitalizations.
The spokesperson added: “The pandemic is not over and we must continue to move cautiously. There is extensive guidance outlining the steps that individuals and businesses should consider to keep themselves and others safe, including keeping spaces well ventilated and recommending that people cover their faces in crowded and enclosed places, such as already they do.
“Starting Monday, it will be up to the organizations to establish their own policy on face coverings. We will continue to provide the public, businesses, transportation operators, and other organizations with guidance on when people should consider wearing a face shield, and we recommend that people wear one in crowded, enclosed places, as they already do. “