Covid: Calls to allow all fully-vaccinated close contacts to be exempt from self-isolation

A server carries a tray of drinks from a pub in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, as beer gardens, non-essential shops, restaurants and cafes, along with swimming pools, libraries and museums in Scotland reopen today after lockdown restrictions have eased. Picture date: Monday April 26, 2021. Andrew Milligan/PA
Businesses warned that staff shortages in pubs and restaurants are being 'exacerbated' and leading to temporary closure as a result of pings from the NHS Covid-19 app. Credit: Andrew Milligan/PA

Boris Johnson is facing growing calls to immediately allow fully vaccinated contacts of coronavirus cases to be exempt from isolation if they test negative in order to prevent staffing crises.

The government announced on Thursday that certain workers, including those in the food supply chain, will be exempt from Covid self-isolation rules.

There are also plans to end self-isolation for the double-jabbed and under-18s from August 16 if they test negative for Covid-19.

But businesses, joined by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, are demanding a more immediate end to the “pingdemic” by loosening the isolation rules for everyone who is fully vaccinated.

There is some cross-party support, with former health secretary Jeremy Hunt having warned the government it faces “losing social consent” for isolation if it does not act now.

Hunt's call was echoed by fellow Conservative Greg Clark, a former business secretary who now chairs the Commons Science and Technology Committee.

He told the BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “We know that on August 16 a new system will come in, in which you can take a test if you’re named as a contact and only isolate if you’re positive – I don’t see why we can’t begin that now on July 23 rather than wait,”

In a letter to the prime minister, the Labour mayor teamed up with industry bodies including UK Hospitality and the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the capital’s branch of the Federation of Small Businesses to demand change.

Amid rising coronavirus cases, they warned that staff shortages in pubs and restaurants are being “exacerbated” and leading to temporary closure as a result of pings from the NHS Covid-19 app.

“The summer months are crucial for many businesses’ recovery and their ability to recover must not be put in jeopardy,” they said.

“We are therefore calling on you to ensure that the necessary testing is in place to enable people who have been double vaccinated for longer than two weeks and pinged by the NHS Covid app, to immediately return to work, following a negative PCR test, rather than having to self-isolate”.

Boris Johnson is facing pressure to bring forward the date of exempting self-isolation from those who have been double-jabbed. Credit: PA

Calling for a “more pragmatic solution”, UKHospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “We now face a summer of venue closures and reduced service, when we should be at a seasonal peak. The sector will do all it can to provide great service, but it will be with one hand tied behind our back.

“Those who are fully vaccinated should be able to test after a ping and, subject to a negative result, carry on with their lives. For those not fully vaccinated two negative tests should be sufficient to return to work.”

Food industry bosses have also branded the government's self-isolation exemption list as “worse than useless” as supermarket staff were left out.

Iceland managing director Richard Walker said he was “deeply disappointed to see supermarket store workers omitted from the list”.

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And the British Frozen Food Federation chief executive Richard Harrow said while more workers will be freed up in parts of the supply chain, others such as supermarket staff will not.

He said: “It shows that yet again the government does not understand how connected the food supply chain is. Only opening part is unlikely to solve the overall issue. Plus, who is in and who is out, who decides and how do they decide?

“Confusion continues to pervade and I have been advised no list until Monday. This is worse than useless.”

Reduced timetables were being introduced on railways across England after a spate of last-minute cancellations due to staff self-isolating.

Transport for London warned of line closures and cancellations this weekend, with more than 300 members of staff isolating. Thameslink, Southern and Avanti West Coast said they will reduce services from Monday.

The Local Government Association warned services provided by local authorities such as bin collections, road repairs and park maintenance could be hit.

But doctors warned the problem is that the prime minister has let the virus “rip” and not the “pings” being issued by the NHS Covid-19 app.

British Medical Association chairman, Dr Chaand Nagpaul, said isolation numbers are the “direct result of lack of effective measures by Government that is allowing the virus to let rip throughout the nation”.

Daily testing for emergency services staff

The government announced on Saturday it would open 200 testing sites for frontline emergency services workers - so they can be tested daily and be exempt from self-isolation rules.

Some police, firefighters, Border Force staff and transport workers were already eligible for the self-isolation exemption, but only if their employers specified their names and they were fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “Daily testing will keep our frontline teams safe while they continue to serve the public and communities across our country.”

It comes after the government announced it would open up to 500 testing sites for food sector workers.

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