The UK government was thrown into turmoil on Sunday by its own rules on Covid self-isolation just as it controversially prepares to ditch pandemic curbs in England.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and finance minister Rishi Sunak will be working remotely in the week ahead after they came into contact with a person infected with Covid, Downing Street said.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid confirmed on Saturday he had tested positive for Covid-19 and was now self-isolating for 10 days.
He had a “lengthy” meeting with Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times. The prime minister nearly died of Covid last year.
Javid also appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: “I don’t see how half the cabinet doesn’t end up in isolation by the end of the week.”
Initially, a Downing Street spokesperson said both Johnson and Sunak were taking part in a government pilot that enables them to continue working from their offices, while self-isolating outside of work.
Yet in an update after a storm of anger over the announcement, the spokesperson reversed position and said neither official was participating in the pilot, but would conduct business remotely.
Johnson will remain at the prime minister’s country retreat at Chequers northwest of London, where he was staying when contacted by Covid tracing officials from the National Health Service (NHS).
The carve-out for the special pilot had provoked uproar among social media users and opposition politicians, after millions of schoolchildren and workers were forced to stay home under the tracing rules.
“Sorry for the unparliamentary language but this just takes the pi**,” Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said on Twitter.
“This Governmentt treats the public with contempt and think they are above the law and that the rules don’t apply to them,” she wrote.
The development came just as Johnson’s government prepares to ditch most pandemic restrictions in England on Monday, despite daily infection rates now topping 50,000 — behind only Indonesia and Brazil.