Pingdemic chaos: Testing pilot Boris and Rishi wanted to use is free for some in No10 but not all
Whitehall descended into chaos this morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak dramatically backed out of a daily testing pilot which would have allowed them to skip house-arrest after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid.
Shortly after 8am, No10 said that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were contacted by the NHS Covid app after Mr Javid was ordered to self-isolate, but that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are eligible for the contact tracing pilot to allow them to continue working from Downing Street.
Less than an hour later, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were allowed to use the test-and-release pilot set up in Downing Street while the rest of the population should still self-isolate when they are ‘pinged’ by Test and Trace.
But amid a furious public backlash, Downing Street said at around 10.40am that both ministers will now be self-isolating for 10 days. Mr Johnson will be quarantining at Chequers, while a Treasury spokesman told MailOnline that Mr Sunak will be self-isolating at his Downing Street flat.
No10 said Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak are both eligible for the pilot, which allows people across 20 organisations to take daily tests and avoid self-isolation, because they work in Downing Street. This explains how senior Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove was able to sidestep quarantine over his trip to the Champions League final in Portugal despite being alerted by the NHS Covid app.
It also means that COP26 President Alok Sharma, Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, Brexit Minister Lord Frost, Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt, Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, and a number of other elected and unelected Downing Street officials are eligible to join the scheme.
Downing Street told MailOnline that just five of the organisations involved in the pilot are public bodies – the Cabinet Office, Border Force, TfL, Network Rail and Heathrow. The remaining 15 are from the private sector, but a spokesman refused to name the organisations when pressed by MailOnline.
It is understood that each person’s eligibility within one of the 20 organisations is assessed on a case-by-case basis. Giving an example, a Downing Street spokesman said that Mr Sunak would not have been eligible for the pilot if another member of his household tested positive – but refused to give other examples and referred MailOnline to the Department of Health.
As plans to scrap most remaining legal restrictions on social contact in England tomorrow fall into disarray amid surging virus cases, it emerged:
Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian ‘Freedom Day’ event at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections;
‘Professor Lockdown’ warned Britain might have to shut down again in the winter before Christmas;
The UK moved closer to the previous peak of 68,000 daily cases, recorded in January, with infections reaching 54,674;
Figures also showed 740 patients had been admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 41 deaths were reported;
A total of 67,956 people had their first vaccine and 188,976 their second, bringing the number of fully vaccinated people to 35,732,297 – or 67.8 per cent of all adults.
Mr Javid became embroiled in a row with Mr Sunak over plans for a £10 billion-a-year ‘health tax’ to clear the backlog of operations and fund care for the elderly, with sources telling the Mail on Sunday that Mr Johnson had asked Mr Javid to pressure the Chancellor to impose the levy;
Prince Charles has told aides that he will wear a mask only when Government advice dictates that he should do so;
Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government may have to reimpose lockdown if Covid cases continue to rise, adding: ‘The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’;
The Olympic athletes’ village in Tokyo recorded its first Covid case, prompting fears for the Games.
Whitehall descended into chaos this morning after Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak dramatically backed out of a controversial daily testing pilot which would have allowed them to skip house-arrest after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid
Shortly after 8am this morning, No10 said that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak were contacted by the NHS Covid app after Mr Javid was ordered to self-isolate, but that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor would be participating in the daily contact tracing pilot to allow them to continue working from Downing Street
Mr Sunak tweeted: ‘Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot’
The Health Secretary was also in the Commons on Monday to announce Freedom Day plans to the nation, meeting with senior ministers the same day
Tomorrow morning, most Covid-19 restrictions are being lifted across England, although governments in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland are re-opening at a slower pace
An official No10 statement said: ‘The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid. He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate.
‘He will not be taking part in the testing pilot. 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.’
Mr Sunak tweeted: ‘Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong. To that end I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.’
Opposition politicians and the public vented their fury at the step, which comes amid spiralling Covid rates and hundreds of thousands of people having to self-isolate after being pinged by the Covid app.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the Government was in ‘chaos’ at a time when in needed to maintain public confidence. ‘Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been busted yet again for thinking the rules that we are all following don’t apply to them,’ he said.
‘The way the Prime Minister conducts himself creates chaos, makes for bad government and has deadly consequences for the British public. Yet again the Conservatives fixed the rules to benefit themselves and only backtracked when they were found out.
‘They robbed the bank, got caught and have now offered to give the money back.’
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth had said many people across the UK would be dismayed by the ‘special, exclusive rule’ after it was announced that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor would not have to self-isolate
The UK moved closer to the previous peak of 68,000 daily cases, recorded in January, with infections reaching 54,674
Figures also showed 740 patients had been admitted to hospital in the previous 24 hours and 41 deaths were reported
Hospitalisations with the disease also spiked 30.4 per cent to 740 on July 13 – the latest date data is available for
SAGE estimated England’s R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, down from last week’s figure of between 1.2 and 1.5
Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth had said many people across the UK would be dismayed by the ‘special, exclusive rule’ after it was announced that both the Prime Minister and the Chancellor would not have to self-isolate.
‘There will be parents across the country who have struggled this year when their children have been sent home because they were in a bubble and had to self-isolate,’ he told Sky News.
‘There will be workers across the country that have to isolate because they’ve been pinged, including in public services, including the NHS. For many of them, waking up this morning to hear that there is a special rule, an exclusive rule, for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they will be saying that this looks like one rule for them and something else for the rest of us.’
The Health Secretary triggered fears of a disruptive ‘pingdemic’ striking at the heart of Government after reveling yesterday he has tested positive.
Mr Javid had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Mr Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.
One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.
Richard Walker, the boss of frozen food chain Iceland was among those who blasted the PM today. He tweeted: ‘Shame the hundreds of Iceland staff who’ve been pinged can’t avoid self-isolation. We can all do a daily lateral flow test.’
Dr Ellie Cannon, an NHS GP and Mail on Sunday columnist, has criticised the Government after it was announced that Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak do not have to isolate after coming into contact with Mr Javid.
She wrote on Twitter: ‘There have been low points in this pandemic. And then there have been lower points.
‘Perhaps the lowest point for me was watching the funeral prayers of an acquaintance who died in particularly difficult circumstances…
‘Their own child, mourning their parent’s sudden death, was not allowed in the place of worship with family because they were contact isolating from school. No-one found special pilot schemes for them.’
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said: ‘The Prime Minister is making a mockery of the sacrifices millions of people have made. His decision to duck self isolation is callous and irresponsible.
‘With Covid cases going through the roof and hospitalisations growing, the Prime Minister’s ‘Freedom Day’ gamble is looking more and more reckless. Through refusing to self isolate the Prime Minister is effectively destroying the whole test and trace system.
‘This is Barnard Castle on steroids. Johnson mustn’t do a Cummings.’