No10 unable to clarify which critical workers will be exempt from Covid self-isolation

ITV News Political Correspondent Libby Wiener reports on the 'Covid confusion' surrounding isolation rules and the test and trace app

Businesses have been left confused after Downing Street was unable to clarify which fully-vaccinated critical workers would be exempt from self-isolation after a coronavirus contact, or when the rules will be relaxed for those workers.

With more than half a million people being told to self-isolate in recent weeks, Boris Johnson told a Downing Street press conference that a "small number" of critical workers in England could soon avoid a period at home if they've had two Covid-19 jabs.

He said the rules would then be relaxed for everyone else who has had both vaccines on August 16, the day England expects to have offered a vaccine to its entire adult population.

But Downing Street said there would not be a list setting out which critical workers are eligible for an exemption as there would not be a "blanket exemption for any sector or role".

Some exemptions have already been granted, Number 10 said but little detail was provided.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "The first exemptions I understand have already been given in some critical sectors, that work is going on given the urgency. That's in both wider sectors and the NHS as well."

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Mr Johnson's spokesman did not rule out some supermarket workers being included and said employers should contact the appropriate government department to request exemptions.

He said: "It's not a blanket exemption and my understanding is we're not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments."

Asked specifically about supermarket workers, he said: "We're not seeking to draw lines specifically around who or who is not exempt.

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"What's important is to make sure critical services are able to function and get that balance right between requiring people to isolate... but also making sure critical services can function."

The spokesman was unable to say when the first critical workers will be exempted from isolation over Covid-19 contacts - "I don't have a specific timeline on that," he said.

He could also not say whether the number of exemptions would be in the hundreds or even thousands.

"I don't have a specific number for you at the moment. As these discussions proceed we might have a clearer sense of the numbers, but as the prime minister set out yesterday it will be a very low number of people," he said.

Businesses have been demanding clarity from the government amid what is being described as a "pingdemic", with the NHS Covid-19 app telling more than 500,000 people to self-isolate in the week to 7 July, a 46% rise on the previous week.

Many firms have been struggling to stay open amid dwindling number of available staff, with pub chain Greene King being forced to shut 33 venues and Andrew Lloyd Webber being forced to cancel his West End theatre show Cinderella.

Hundreds of thousands of people up and down the country have been waiting to see this message on their NHS Covid-19 app. Credit: PA

It does not appear they will benefit from the limited relaxation, with Downing Street insisting that "isolation remains the most important action people can take to stop the spread of the virus".

Mr Johnson has suggested the loosened self-isolation rule would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the change would cover the police, air traffic controllers and train signallers, and others in "circumstances where there would be a serious risk of harm to public welfare if people in critical roles are unable to go to their workplace".

"We recognise there are some very specific circumstances where there would be a serious risk of harm to public welfare if people in critical roles are unable to go to their workplace - like air traffic controllers or train signallers," the vaccines minister told the House of Commons.

"So people in those kinds of roles, who have received two vaccinations, plus two weeks beyond the second vaccine, will not need to self isolate for those critical tasks they will, however, have to continue to self isolate at all other times."

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