UK's Boris Johnson will isolate for a week in Covid U-turn

British leader abandons plan to sidestep isolation by using pilot testing scheme

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson will isolate for a week after dropping plans to sidestep quarantine following his health minister's diagnosis with Covid-19.

Mr Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak initially planned to swerve isolation by using a pilot daily testing scheme that is not available on demand to the general public.

But a climbdown swiftly followed after the Conservative Party ministers were accused of using a "VIP lane" to dodge the isolation rules causing havoc in Britain's economy.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told to self-isolate by the UK’s National Health Service app as the Delta variant fuels a third wave of infections.

Acknowledging the U-turn in a video released on Sunday, Mr Johnson said it was "far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules".

The Prime Minister's office said he would isolate at Chequers, his official country residence north of London.

"He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot," a spokesman said.

Keir Starmer, the leader of the opposition Labour Party, had described the planned workaround as a "slap in the face for everyone who has made sacrifices".

"Boris Johnson should be setting an example. Instead, he gives himself and his Chancellor preferential treatment," he said. "It can't be one rule for the Conservatives and another for everyone else."

Mr Sunak said the pilot scheme would only have allowed him out for essential government business, but said he recognised the concern that the rules would not be the same for everyone.

"To that end I'll be self isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot," he said.

Mr Johnson, who spent three nights in intensive care with Covid-19 last year, was alerted by the NHS app overnight.

He had a meeting on Friday with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who announced his positive test on Saturday but said he was fully vaccinated and experiencing only mild symptoms.

The development comes just as Mr Johnson’s government prepares to lift most restrictions on social life on Monday’s long-awaited “Freedom Day”.

From Monday, masks will no longer be compulsory in England and limits on social gatherings will be lifted.

Ministers are pressing ahead with a fourth and final stage of an unlocking plan after delaying it by four weeks in June to allow more people to be vaccinated.

But optimism has been dampened by rising infections and disruption to businesses and transport caused by the large numbers being “pinged” by the NHS app.

People who are identified as contacts must isolate for 10 days starting from when they last saw the infected person.

The government says people are assigned at random to the testing pilot which Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak had initially planned to use. It allows people to take daily lateral flow tests instead of isolating.

Earlier this year, Cabinet minister Michael Gove used the pilot scheme to avoid isolation after returning from the Champions League final in Portugal.

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the pilot was available to a range of organisations, including the UK Border Force and London’s transport network.

Amid concerns from some scientists that the UK is going ahead with its so-called Freedom Day at a time of rising infections, Mr Jenrick said it was justified by the success of Britain’s vaccination programme.

The government says that every adult in Britain has been offered at least one dose of a Covid shot and that the vaccination drive has weakened the link between infections and deaths.

Official data shows that 88 per cent of adults have received a first dose, with 68 per cent now fully vaccinated.

“This is the right moment but we’ve got to do it cautiously,” Mr Johnson said in the video released on Sunday.

“Go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present. “

Updated: July 18th 2021, 3:43 PM
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