LONDON â€”Â Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak abandoned plans to avoid full coronavirus self-isolation after a furious backlash.
Downing Street said Sunday that the U.K. prime minister and chancellor would now both self-isolate, just two hours and 38 minutes after No. 10 announced the pair would be participating in a pilot scheme allowing them to avoid doing so while working.
An initial Downing Street statement â€” which came after Health Secretary Sajid Javid on Saturday tested positive for COVID â€“ said the pair had been contacted by NHS Test and Trace because of a close contact testing positive.
But it made clear they would both be taking part in a “daily contact testing pilot to allow them to continue to work from Downing Street.”
â€œThey will be conducting only essential government business during this period,” the statement said.
That scheme covers 28 public and private sector organizations, and allows people to continue to work, provided testing is carried out and that they self-isolate when not working.
But the exemption for the government’s two most senior figures was pounced on by the opposition Labour Party. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News it represented “one rule for them at the top and another for the rest of us.”
In a second Downing Street statement, issued after Sunak backed away from the plan on Twitter, a spokesman said Johnson would now remain at his grace-and-favor home Chequers to isolate and would 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,” the spokesman added.
The move came after Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick sought to defend the pilot plan on the Sunday broadcast round, while acknowledging the â€œfrustrationâ€ people would feel.
Jenrick said the pilot scheme had been available to a range of organizations, not just politicians, and was being used by Border Force and Transport for London. The pair would not have been able to socialize with friends and family, he added.
The row comes a day before England lifts the vast majority of its COVID-19 restrictions.
More than 530,000 alerts telling people to self-isolate were sent in the week to July 7 â€” with the policy coming under increasing criticism from business leaders enduring staff shortages.
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