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Boris Johnson and chancellor Rishi Sunak have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of health secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for Covid-19, but will avoid self-isolation under a “daily contact testing” pilot scheme.
The “get out of jail free” pilot scheme has become controversial after being used by Michael Gove and a number of senior Whitehall officials in order to avoid quarantine during the “pingdemic” which has seen hundreds of thousands of workers across the country told to stay at home.
Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said Johnson and Sunak were treating the public with “contempt”.
“Sorry for the unparliamentary language but this just takes the pi**,” she wrote on Twitter. “Not following the rules that they created and which they expect my constituents to follow. This government treat the public with contempt and think they are above the law and that the rules don’t apply to them.”
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said it was a case of “one rule for them and another rule for everyone else”, while Green Party co-leader Jonathan Bartley said that in voicing his response “anger doesn’t cover it”.
Under the scheme, participants are given daily rapid-turnaround lateral flow tests and granted 24-hour release from self-isolation if the test is negative. They also receive two PCR tests.
This allows them to avoid the 10-day self-isolation legally required from anyone identified as a contact of a known Covid patient and called by NHS Test and Trace. They are able to continue working but cannot socialise or meet friends and family.
Official guidance on the scheme states that those taking part will be selected “at random” from contacts identified by Test and Trace.
But government sources have confirmed that staff and ministers at three Whitehall departments, including the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street, have signed up to the pilot, allowing several individuals to continue working after being “pinged”.
A 10 Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime Minister and chancellor have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace as contacts of someone who has tested positive for Covid.
“They will be participating in the daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.
“They will be conducting only essential government business during this period.”
Housing secretary Robert Jenrick told Sky News that the Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street were among around 20 public organisations - also including Border Force and Transport for London - taking part in the pilot, but said he was “not aware” of other government departments being involved.
Asked whether it was a case of “one rule for us, one rule for them”, Mr Jenrick told interviewer Trevor Phillips: “I appreciate that this isn’t available yet to wider members of the public, and I appreciate the frustration that they might feel.
“They, like me or other members of the public who are pinged, will have to self-isolate in the usual way and that’s a really important part of our plan to keep Covid under control.”
Labour shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said that it “beggars belief” that Johnson and Sunak were dodging quarantine which they had forced on thousands of others.
Mr Ashworth told Phillips: “There’ll be parents across the country who have struggled this past year when their children have been sent home because they were in a bubble. There’ll be workers across the country who have to isolate when pinged, including in public services like the NHS.
“I think, for many of them, waking up this morning to hear that there is a special rule and exclusive rule for Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak, will be saying to themselves that this looks like one rule for them and something else for the rest of us.
“Nobody understands how you can get access to this special treatment, this special VIP lane where you don’t have to isolate yourself.
“If it is a pilot, why can’t employers apply for their workforce to be members of this pilot, why can’t schools apply to be part of this pilot test?”
Mr Ashworth said the PM and chancellor would be able to continue working remotely using services like Zoom while self-isolating in the normal way.
He added: “This is at a time when we need to maintain confidence in the isolation policies because isolation - taking yourself away from society - if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s got the virus is one of the key ways in which we break transmission.”
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “It is one rule for them and another rule for everyone else.
“How about the school teachers, transport workers and health workers getting a chance to be part of this test pilot or is it only for the privileged few? People have stuck to the rules and done the right thing, Boris Johnson is taking them for granted.”
Co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said: “Hundreds of thousands of young people, including my children, had their education and lives repeatedly turned upside down again and again after dutifully and responsibly isolating. And now this.
“Anger doesn’t begin to cover it.”
Mr Javid began 10 days of self-isolation with his family after receiving a positive lateral flow test on Saturday morning. This was confirmed by a more reliable PCR test, which triggered the Test and Trace hunt for contacts.
He took the test after feeling “groggy” on Friday evening - just hours after a meeting at 10 Downing Street with Mr Johnson. He must now stay home until Monday 26 July.
The positive test sparked renewed calls for Boris Johnson to halt his planned relaxation of coronavirus restrictions in England on Monday, when legal requirements to socially distance and wear face-coverings will be lifted.
Liberal Democrat health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “This shows no one is safe from this deadly virus. The government needs to rethink its reckless plans for Monday.
“By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people’s lives. Right now, they are pursuing a strategy of survival of the fittest, where the young and clinically vulnerable will be left defenceless.”
Mr Javid’s infection came in spite of the fact that he has received two coronavirus vaccine jabs.
Scientists warn that two doses of vaccine do not provide blanket protection to everyone from infection with Covid-19.
Analysis by Public Health England shows that both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines offer better than 90 per cent efficacy against the dominant Delta variant of the virus after two doses, meaning that some of those with double jabs will still suffer “breakthrough” infections - though these are usually mild.
BBC presenter Andrew Marr revealed that he was infected at the G7 summit in Cornwall in June, despite having received two vaccine doses.