Health Secretary Sajid Javid has tested positive for Covid-19 less than 48 hours before lockdown restrictions come to an end in England.
Mr Javid said he took a lateral flow test on Saturday morning having felt “a bit groggy” the previous evening.
He said he was self-isolating with his family as he awaited the result of a more accurate PCR test, which will confirm whether he has contracted the virus.
In a statement posted on his Twitter feed, Mr Javid, who is fully vaccinated, said he was suffering only “mild symptoms”.
However the timing could hardly be more inopportune for the Government as it prepares for most statutory controls in England to end from Monday.
Some scientists have expressed deep misgivings over the decision to go ahead with the final step of the Government’s road map out of lockdown while infections continue to soar.
The Liberal Democrats said that Mr Javid’s positive test underlined the case for Government to rethink its plans.
Health spokeswoman Munira Wilson said: “This shows no-one is safe from this deadly virus.
“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.”
There was no immediate comment from No 10 on reports that the Health Secretary met Boris Johnson in Downing Street on Friday, raising the prospect the Prime Minister may have to spend so-called “freedom day” isolating.
NHS Test and Trace will only begin the process of tracking down his recent close contacts and telling them to self-isolate if the PCR test proves positive.
Mr Javid has been working from his office at the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in Whitehall and was in the Commons chamber three times in the past week.
On Monday he delivered a statement on lifting lockdown, while the following day he was answering health and social care questions. On on Wednesday he opened the second reading debate on the Health and Social Care Bill.
On Tuesday, Mr Javid also visited a residential care home in Streatham, south London.
His positive test meant that Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick had to be drafted in to replace him in a series of broadcast interviews with the Sunday morning politics shows.
Mr Javid was only appointed to the post last month following the resignation of Matt Hancock after CCTV footage emerged showing him kissing an aide in his office in breach of social distancing rules.
He is seen by Tories as being noticeably keener than his predecessor on easing restrictions.
The disclosure of his positive test came after another Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt warned the Government could be forced to reimpose restrictions if cases carried on rising into the autumn.
After officials figures from Friday showed that new daily cases in the UK had exceeded 50,000 for the first time since mid-January, Mr Hunt said the NHS was in a “very serious” situation.
“The warning light on the NHS dashboard is not flashing amber, it is flashing red,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.
“I think coming into September we are almost certainly going to see infections reach a new daily peak going above the 68,000 daily level which was the previous daily record in January.
“If they are still going up as the schools are coming back I think we are going to have to reconsider some very difficult decisions. How we behave over the next few weeks will have a material difference.”
Sorry to hear this, but good news that your symptoms are mild. Hope you feel better soon. https://t.co/Xda2cf16lc
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) July 17, 2021
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said that cases could reach 100,000 a day within weeks.
He said that without the social distancing measures which brought the first two waves of the pandemic under control, the virus would continue to spread.
“I think this wave of the epidemic will be quite long and drawn out,” he told the Today programme.
“My hunch is that we are looking at a high level of incidence for a protracted period right through the summer and probably through much of the autumn.
“We are at about 50,000 (infections) a day now. The epidemic has been doubling roughly every two weeks, and so if we allow things as they are for another couple of weeks you could expect it to get to 100,000 cases a day.”