Boris Johnson says he “did look briefly at the idea” of taking part in a daily-test pilot scheme but thinks it’s “far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules” so will be self-isolating until next Monday.
Mr Johnson said: “Like hundreds of thousands of other people across the country, I’ve been pinged. I’ve been asked to self-isolate by the Test Trace and Isolate system.”
Ahead of England lifting restrictions tomorrow, the PM urged everyone to “please, please, please, be cautious”.
The prime minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak are now self-isolating following uproar earlier today over their original plans to avoid staying at home after Sajid Javid’s positive COVID-19 test, Downing Street said.
After Mr Javid, the newly appointed health secretary, contracted coronavirus and went into quarantine, it was thought a number of other ministers and officials might also have to self-isolate.
MPs are reacting to the prime minister’s Twitter video, with Labour MP Jess Phillips tweeting: “I guess at Eton they teach a different word for sorry.”
Welsh Labour MP Tonia Antoniazzi retweeted the video with the caption: “Resign… the country deserves better!”
SNP Westminister leader Ian Blackford wrote: “It is impossible to run a stable society and seek the consent of the people when the PM behaves in such a way. He can’t run his own mind never mind run a country”.
Following widespread uproar this morning, however, it was announced just over two hours later that the pair would self-isolate after all.
“The prime minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with COVID,” a spokesperson said.
“He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.
“He will 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.”
Mr Sunak tweeted: “Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong.
“To that end I’ll be self isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.”
The decision means the prime minister will be self-isolating on the so-called “freedom day” on Monday when most lockdown restrictions end in England.
Reacting to the U-turn, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “This Conservative government is in chaos. Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been busted yet again for thinking the rules that we are all following don’t apply to them.
“The public have done so much to stick to the rules. At a time when we need to maintain confidence in self-isolation, parents, workers and businesses will be wondering what on earth is going on in Downing Street.
“The way the prime minister conducts himself creates chaos, makes for bad government and has deadly consequences for the British public.”
Mr Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for COVID – only a day after the health secretary reportedly met with Mr Johnson in Downing Street.
But this morning, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared on Sky News to defend Downing Street’s initial announcement that the PM and chancellor would not be isolating.
He said: “I appreciate the frustration [the public] might feel listening to this.
“They, like me, or other members of the public who are pinged will have to self-isolate in the usual way.”
Having seen Mr Jenrick sent on to the morning politics programmes to defend the original decision, Sky’s political correspondent Rob Powell described the situation as “baffling”.
“This is a pretty speedy U-turn,” he said.
While Mr Jenrick referred to being “pinged”, the PM and chancellor were in fact contacted by NHS Test and Trace directly rather than simply being alerted by the NHS COVID-19 app.
That means that there is a legal obligation to self-isolate for 10 days, whereas being pinged by the app is only guidance.
Latest figures show over 500,000 people were pinged by the NHS app in a week, leading to concerns millions could be forced out of work as coronavirus cases rise.
Mr Jenrick encouraged people to keep the app installed and self-isolate when pinged.
Referring to the increasing numbers of people being told to self-isolate, and around two hours before Downing Street’s latest U-turn, Mr Jenrick said: “I do appreciate that this is proving to be very challenging.”
There are currently 20 organisations in both the private and public sector – including Downing Street – taking part in the workplace pilot testing scheme that would have exempted Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, according to Mr Jenrick.
The scheme allows people out of self-isolation to continue working every day they pass a lateral flow test.
These include Network Rail, Transport for London (TfL), Heathrow Airport and Border Force, the government says, although TfL bosses have suggested that its inclusion in the pilot comes as news to them.
“The current Test and Trace rules on self-isolation have led to vital control room staff being unable to come to work, causing disruption on some Tube lines,” said a spokesman.
“The government has indicated that we could be part of a trial whereby daily tests would replace the need for self-isolation. We are still waiting for formal notification from them that we are part of this trial so that we can brief our trade unions and put this into effect.”
For those it does involve, the pilot running in conjunction with a general daily contact testing study, open to anyone identified as a close contact of a positive case.
Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove avoided self-isolating in June by taking part in a similar scheme.
Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth told Sky News: “It’s absolute chaos. It really was one rule for them and one for the rest of us
“They’ve only U-turned because they’ve been caught out by this.”
He added that there are “lots of questions about what this trial is [and] who can access it” and called for greater transparency.
Businesses and NHS leaders have been pressing for the NHS app to be overhauled and made less sensitive amid concerns that staff shortages, caused by those self-isolating, will cripple services.
London Underground became the latest to succumb on Saturday when the Metropolitan Line was forced to close because of a lack of control room staff.
While most COVID restrictions lift in England on Monday the rules on self-isolating for contacts of people who test positive are not eased until 16 August.
Then, people who are double-jabbed will be able to take tests rather than quarantine at home.
Mike Cherry, national chairman of The Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We’ve always said that access to workplace testing will be fundamental to keeping the virus under control as the economy gets back on its feet.
“Given that those at the very top of government were today given the choice of rigorous testing in place of self-isolation, small business owners who have been hampered by pings will be wondering why they and their staff are not offered the same choice.”
Prior to the U-turn, the announcement prompted cross-party condemnation and accusations of double standards, with many MPs pointing out that the majority of the public would still have to self-isolate.
Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey said: “The prime minister is making a mockery of the sacrifices millions of people have made. His decision to duck self isolation is callous and irresponsible.”
And co-leader of the Green Party Jonathan Bartley said, “anger doesn’t begin to cover it”.
Mr Johnson also faced pressure from within his own party.
On Sunday morning, chair of the COVID Recovery Group Mark Harper reiterated his call that the isolation requirement is scrapped for vaccinated people as soon as possible.
“As I said on Friday, these rules need to change now,” he tweeted.
Dr Ellie Cannon, an NHS GP and Mail on Sunday columnist, also criticised the government.
She wrote on Twitter: “There have been low points in this pandemic. And then there have been lower points.
“Perhaps the lowest point for me was watching the funeral prayers of an acquaintance who died in particularly difficult circumstances…
“Their own child, mourning their parent’s sudden death, was not allowed in the place of worship with family because they were contact isolating from school.”
On Sunday morning Barnard Castle began trending on Twitter, with many people comparing the PM’s initial failure to self-isolate to when Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules to drive to the tourist-spot.
Earlier, Sky News’ deputy political editor Sam Coates said: “The opposition will be asking – could this be a Barnard Castle moment?
“That had big political ramifications… with the government desperately trying to dampen down the damage.”