Fury at self-isolating Boris over flawed Freedom Day rules

‘It’s not freedom day, it’s disaster day’: Businesses rage at self-isolating Boris as Great Unlocking is marred by millions still at mercy of ‘pingdemic’ and demand testing system instead – as ministers suggest double-jabbed must wait another MONTH

  • Greene King and PureGym are the latest big businesses to call for move towards a test and release scheme 
  • Boris Johnson U-turned after announcing they would dodge the self-isolation rules for Covid contacts  
  • Mr Johnson was already under pressure ahead of Freedom Day and plans were thrown into complete disarray  

Freedom Day was branded ‘disaster day’ by stricken businesses today as self-isolating Boris Johnson faces fresh demands to dump farcical test and trace rules to quell the ‘pingdemic’.

The PM is marking the grand unlocking alone at Chequers after performing a comical U-turn from initially saying he and Rishi Sunak would dodge quarantine despite having met Health Secretary Sajid Javid – who has tested positive.

But the lifting of almost all legal restrictions have merely fuelled fears about spiking cases bringing the economy grinding to a halt, as more and more people are doomed to house arrest.  

Experts estimate around 1.8million people are still self-isolating after being ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app or contacted by Test and Trace.

And many firms say their sites are having to open with reduced hours or shut completely because up to a quarter of staff are off as a precautionary measure. The Road Haulage Association has warned of impending chaos in supply chains, with chief executive Rod Mackenzie telling the FT: ‘Far from freedom day being freedom day, it’s going to be disaster day.’

In a key concession today, frontline NHS workers will be exempted from the rules to prevent hospitals having to cancel operations because of staff shortages.

But this morning vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi appeared to dash hopes that the exemption could be ditched for the double-jabbed before August 16, as well as suggesting that the sensitivity of the app will remain the same for the time being. 

Iceland supermarket boss Richard Walker accused the Government of ‘squandering the advantages’ of its successful vaccination programme by forcing double-jabbed people to self-isolate, adding: ‘We’re behaving like it’s the dark days of March 2020’.

Humphrey Cobbold, the CEO of PureGym, which has more than 1.1million members in 287 sites, said: ‘We’ve been talking internally about living in the United Pingdom and it’s become a huge challenge for individuals and businesses’, adding his staff are ‘being pinged all the time’.

He added: ‘Up to 25 per cent of our staff in some areas have been asked to self-isolate. Through flexibility we’ve been able to keep sites open so far but it’s been a really close call. I think there is a different way to react to the pings for the double vaccinated and using lateral flow tests that would keep the economy functioning’.  

Greene King pub boss Nick MacKenzie said: ‘It’s a problem and it could get worse. It is disruptive to the business. We had to close 33 pubs in the past week because of a lack of staff and across the industry we think it is one in 5 who have been affected by this and therefore it is causing us a real issue on a daily basis. We are having to have shorten hours in certain circumstances.’

He added: ‘We need clarity from government on how the app works and we need to move to a test and release scheme where people can take a lateral flow test every day and get back to work and some sort of normality’.

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had announced yesterday they would take part in a pilot scheme to avoid quarantine.  

But amid widespread outrage from politicians, business leaders and the public they humiliatingly caved in within hours and revealed they would join the legions of people self-isolating – in the PM’s case Chequers until July 26, his country estate in Buckinghamshire.

They had faced accusations they were accessing a ‘VIP lane’ that was not available to workers who are having to isolate, bringing some businesses and public transport to the brink of collapse. 

  • People in England emerge from lockdown today with the government’s final major easing of restrictions – but so called ‘Freedom Day’ came as daily cases hit 50,000 – a result of the rapidly spreading Delta variant – and rising hospitalisations;
  • Critical frontline medical and social care staff will be able to avoid self-isolation to go to work from today if they are double-jabbed;
  • Tony Blair leads calls for change and says it makes ‘no sense’ for the vaccinated to be kept isolating when we are at such a critical juncture in the fight against the pandemic;
  • Nightclubs across the country have thrown open their doors to celebrate the arrival of Freedom Day – but 73 per cent of clubbers had previously said they did not want to return as the nation tiptoes out of lockdown;
  • Mr Zahawi suggested the government will confirm today that only vulnerable children will be vaccinated, although he said the situation would continue to be reviewed.  

The Prime Minister used a social media video (pictured) this afternoon to say he had been ‘pinged’ after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for the virus yesterday and would be isolating at Chequers, in Buckinghamshire, until July 26.


Humphrey Cobbold (left), the CEO of PureGym, and Greene King pub boss Nick MacKenzie (right) have both called for the self-isolation rules to change and move towards test and release

People queue outside Bar Fibre in Leeds after the lifting of Covid restrictions in England at midnight

Revellers get back on the dancefloor at Powerhouse nightclub in Newcastle at the stroke of midnight, wasting no time to enjoy their first taste of clubbing since last March

 

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi today appeared to dash hopes that the exemption could be ditched for the double-jabbed before August 16, as well as suggesting that the sensitivity of the app will remain the same for the time being

 

 

 

Pingdemic pass for NHS staff: Ministers issue new rules for health workers to dodge self-isolation 

Critical frontline NHS and social care staff will be able to avoid self-isolation to go to work from today if they are double-jabbed, the Government announced last night.

Ministers were under intense pressure to intervene as the ‘pingdemic’ took its toll on hospitals, with some forced to call off operations because of staff shortages.

Healthcare workers who have been in contact with a positive case will now, in exceptional circumstances, be able to return to work after they have had a negative PCR test. They must then take daily lateral flow tests, and should wear PPE properly throughout their day at work.

It will apply to staff who have either been ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid-19 app or contacted by NHS Test and Trace. 

Staff who are permitted to go to work will remain under a legal duty to self-isolate as a close contact but will be considered to have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to attend work if their absence could result in harm.

Decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis and only after a risk assessment by the organisation’s management, the Government said.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said last night: ‘As we learn to live with this virus, it’s important that we ensure frontline staff can keep providing the best possible care and support to people up and down the country.

‘The Government has backed healthcare services at every turn through this global pandemic and these new rules will fortify our collective defences against this awful virus, by allowing fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff to continue to work when needed.’

UK Health Security Agency chief executive Jenny Harries said it was ‘imperative that we do everything we can to manage this virus and support our NHS and social care services under the strain of increased demand and sustained pressure’ amid rising cases. ‘We have provided specific guidance to NHS and social care settings for circumstances where there is a significant risk to health or safety resulting from staff absence or a critical service cannot run.

‘This measure only applies to double-vaccinated staff, who will only be able to attend work after testing negative on PCR and daily lateral flow tests, and following a risk assessment and the supervision of the health service.’

Several hospital trusts have hundreds of staff isolating at any one time. This has led to operations being cancelled in Leeds, Birmingham and in the North East.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham has postponed planned surgery for two days. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the loss of staff is having a ‘significant impact’. He added: ‘We absolutely know it’s contributing in some places to trusts having to reduce the amounts of elective surgery they’re doing.’

Last week the Royal College of Anaesthetists and the Faculty of Intensive Care Medicine issued a call to exempt double-jabbed NHS staff from isolation over close contacts.

‘The risk of patients contracting Covid from vaccinated healthcare staff is minimal compared to the damage patients could suffer by having their treatment delayed,’ they said.

 

In a round of interviews this morning, Mr Zahawi suggested there would be no changes to the NHS Covid app’s sensitivity after calls for it to be dialled down amid a shortage of staff in some sectors.

Asked what could be done to change the app, the vaccines minister told Sky News: ‘I think the right thing to do is to continue to clinically advise people, with that sensitivity, that they have come into contact with people who have tested positive.

‘The difference now so that we’ve got almost 88% of people with one dose and 68% of people with two doses, so we can take decisions like we’ve just done with NHS and social care staff, we can make decisions that on August 16 anyone who is double vaccinated doesn’t need to then isolate if they are pinged and don’t test positive for Covid.

‘Those changes are happening because of the vaccination programme.’

Mr Zahawi denied the Government has been taking the public for ‘fools’ after insisting the PM only ‘briefly considered’ entering a pilot scheme to avoid having to self-isolate before deciding to stick to the rules.

No10 putting out a statement yesterday morning confirming that Mr Johnson would use the exemption, and Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick defended the move on TV before a sudden U-turn.

Mr Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘No-one is taking anyone for fools.

‘Every decision the Prime Minister has had to make throughout this pandemic has been a tough decision – there are no easy options here.’

Mr Zahawi confirmed that the Cabinet Office and No 10 will ‘no longer be on the pilot scheme’. 

Mike Cherry of the Federation of Small Businesses questioned why a system to avoid self-isolation was open to politicians.

‘Small firms have been struggling to get across mixed messaging regarding the reopening for weeks now, and this is no different,’ he said.

‘Thousands of small businesses will now be left wondering why the testing pilot is only open to those at the top of government and a handful of big corporates and organisations but not them.’

The CBI said there was an urgent need ‘to allow double-jabbed individuals not to self-isolate if they have been informed by NHS Test and Trace that they have come into contact with a Covid positive individual’.

The British Retail Consortium called for pinged store staff to be able to continue to work if they had a negative test result.

James Bielby of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors said: ‘Food supply chain workers are key workers and, unlike Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak, their workplace doesn’t close down for the summer.

‘They’re needed not only to keep shelves and storerooms stocked, but also to drive the economic recovery of the hospitality sector which the Prime Minister and Chancellor are depending on.’

Writing in the Daily Mail, Tony Blair said the self-isolation system was ‘not rational’. Its chaotic results have led to hospitals postponing operations, factories cancelling shifts, disruption to rail services and fears of food shortages.

The boss of Marks and Spencer, Steve Rowe, warned a staff exodus could force the chain to reduce opening hours.

From today fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care workers who are a contact of a positive case would be allowed to work in exceptional circumstances.

They will have to take a PCR test and daily lateral flow tests for the duration of the period they would otherwise have been in isolation

The Adam Smith Institute yesterday estimated more than 1.7million people were isolating across the UK and warned the figure could reach 5.2 million in a month.

A senior Tory said: ‘They ought to have said last week that ‘We’re bringing the August 16 date [on easing the isolation rules] forward so that people who are double vaccinated and have a negative test can go out and do as they please’.

‘If they’d done that, the Prime Minister wouldn’t be having to self-isolate now.’

Mr Johnson yesterday admitted in a video posted from isolation at his official country residence Chequers that it was ‘far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules’.

And he begged for caution amid warnings from scientists that cases could reach 200,000 a day before the current wave of the virus peaks.

Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former adviser, suggested he had been ‘forced to U-turn’ on self-isolation by the Chancellor. Downing Street denied the claims, but came under friendly fire from insiders.

A well-placed source said: ‘This has been a classic shambolic situation where decisions are taken without being properly discussed or considered, so we just lurch from one plan to another.

‘I’m a little bit worried we’re just blindly walking into a very similar situation that saw the PM end up in hospital last year because people think they’re too important or invincible for the rules to apply.’

A senior Tory MP said: ‘It is appalling that such basic mistakes are being made which simply serve to send out the message of one rule for the public and another rule for us. They need to start looking at themselves rather than everyone else.’ 

Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak (pictured together) had announced yesterday they would take part in a pilot scheme to avoid quarantine. This sparked furious accusations of ‘one rule for them and another rule for everybody else’

Defending Mr Johnson’s initial decision, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick (pictured) said the Chancellor and the Prime Minister will be able to conduct the ‘most essential’ Government meetings but spend the rest of their time spent isolating

The ‘pingdemic’ has had chaotic results which included hospitals postponing operations due to staff self-isolating (file pic)

Tory WhatsApp groups were abuzz with MPs sharing their frustration at the initial statement when it was ‘blindingly obvious that this was not going to be a sustainable position’. 

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs, told the Telegraph: ‘The rules proposed for after August 16 are sensible and reflect the reduced risk if fully vaccinated, but they need to be brought forward, along with altered app advice and sensitivity, to now.

‘We are going to have to learn to live with Covid, trust the public to balance the risks of life and believe in the evidence that continues to show how effective our vaccines are.’

Labour leader Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of being ‘magically selected’ for the pilot scheme so he could ‘avoid isolation like the rest of us’.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, Sir Keir wrote: ‘There are hundreds of thousands of people who have been forced to miss family events, close businesses and go without pay because they have done the right thing. And yet ministers have played the system.’

People in England will today emerge from lockdown with the government’s final major easing of restrictions

How does the pilot scheme work? 

The daily contact testing study is being run by Public Health England to determine the effect of allowing people to avoid self-isolating. 

 It was launched in April and has already been used by Michael Gove, who was alerted after travelling to Portugal for the Champions League final. 

It contains two groups. One is a test group who get one PCR test and have to isolate as normal even if it is negative.

But a second group is given a daily lateral flow test and members are allowed to leave isolation each day afterward if it is negative.

Only participants in the daily testing group who continue to test negative and do not have symptoms are excused from the legal duty to self-isolate each day,’ the Government said as it was announced.

‘Participants in the daily testing group will have a legal duty to tell their employer that they’re taking part in the study, and if they stop taking part for any reason.’

Defending Mr Johnson’s initial decision, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘The Chancellor and the Prime Minister will be able to conduct the most essential Government meetings but the rest of their time will have to be spent isolating and not meeting up with family or friends or socialising. So it is relatively restrictive.’

Addressing whether he would quarantine in a video put out this afternoon, Mr Johnson said: ‘We did look briefly into the idea of us taking part in the pilot scheme which allows people to test daily, but I think it’s far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules.

‘That’s why I’m going to be self-isolating until the 26th of July. I really do urge everybody to stick with the programme and take the appropriate course of action when you’re asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.’      

Mr Johnson faced condemnation this morning over the plan, which comes as tens of thousands of workers are forced to isolate by a Covid app ‘pingdemic’.

Labour leader Keir Starmer said: ‘The only reason that he’s U-turned on this is because he’s been busted. It’s like bank robbers who’ve got caught and now they’re offering the money back.’

In a snap poll carried out by market researcher Savanta ComRes, which surveyed 1,003 English adults, 60 per cent said the Prime Minister’s plan to dodge self-isolation was ‘unfair’.

In addition, 75 per cent (three quarters) agreed with the statement: ‘There is one rule for members of the government and another rule for everyone else.’  

Mr Johnson was already under pressure ahead of Freedom Day tomorrow. His plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England – including a ‘Churchillian’ speech were thrown into complete disarray as he found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum over surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands of workers being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app. 

And one of the UK’s top epidemiologists has refused to rule out a new lockdown before Christmas today as Boris’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of in England tomorrow collapsed into complete disarray.

Prof Neil Ferguson said he ‘can’t be certain’ over whether the country will need to lock down again in the winter before Christmas.

But he admitted that in a worst-case scenario ‘there may be a need to basically slow spread to some extent’ to ease pressure on the NHS

But appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that it was possible 2,000 people would be hospitalised a day, and 200,000 new daily cases, but it would be three weeks before the impact of Freedom Day tomorrow is known.  

Prof Ferguson said: ‘We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.

‘The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.

‘It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.’

It comes as Covid cases across the UK soared by 52 per cent week-on-week with the number of deaths has fallen slightly.

The UK yesterday recorded 48,161 Covid cases – up from the 31,772 cases recorded last Sunday. 

The PM’s announcement sparked fury – and a wave of memes – on Twitter this morning.

Up to 1million people were asked to self-isolate last week but that figure could hit 5.6million by the end of the month, if cases spiral by 75 per cent every week (right), according to MailOnline analysis. Separate projections based on a growth rate of 40 per cent – similar to what Test and Trace reported last week – says the number of those self-isolating could hit 3million a week

In his full video message, Mr Johnson said: ‘Like so many hundreds of thousands of other people across the country, I’ve been pinged.

‘I’ve been asked to self-isolate by the Test and Trace isolate system, after I’ve been in contact with someone who has Covid, in this case of course, the Health Secretary Sajid Javid.

‘And we did look briefly at the idea of us taking part in the pilot scheme which allows people to test daily.

‘But I think it is far more important that everybody sticks to the same rules. That’s why I’m going to be self-isolating until Monday, July 26.

‘I know how frustrating it all is but I really do urge everybody to stick with the programme and take the appropriate course of action when you’re asked to do so by NHS Test and Trace.

‘The reason for that is we’re going tomorrow into step four, we’re doing a big opening up. 

‘And that’s quite right. If we don’t do it now, then we’ll be opening up in the Autumn and Winter months when the virus has the advantage of the cold weather. We lose the precious firebreak that we get with the school holidays. 

‘If we don’t do it now, we have to ask ourselves, when will we ever do it. So this is the right moment.

‘But we’ve got to do it cautiously. We’ve got to remember that this virus is sadly still out there. Cases are rising, we can see the extreme contagiousness of the Delta variant.

‘But we have this immense consolation and satisfaction that there is no doubt at all that the vaccine programme – the massive vaccination programme – has very severely weakened the link between infection and hospitalisation, and between infection and serious illness and death.

‘So please, please, please be cautious and go forward tomorrow into the next step with all the right prudence and respect for other people and the risks that the disease continues to present.

‘And above all, please, please, please, when you’re asked to get that second jab, get your jab, please come forward and do it.’

Prof Neil Ferguson said he ‘can’t be certain’ over whether the country will need to lock down again in winter before Christmas

Covid hospitalisations are above the levels estimated by SAGE for mid-July, at 559 on average. SAGE says there could be 2,000 a day in August when they think the second wave will peak

‘Professor Lockdown’ says Britain might have to shut down again in months – but urges the nation to be ‘patient’ and wait to see if cases start falling by September or stay high in a ‘worst-case scenario’ 

One of the UK’s top epidemiologists refused to rule out a new lockdown before Christmas today as Boris Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow collapsed into complete disarray.

Prof Neil Ferguson said he ‘can’t be certain’ over whether the country will need to lock down again in the winter before Christmas.

But he admitted that in a worst-case scenario ‘there may be a need to basically slow spread to some extent’ to ease pressure on the NHS

But appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that it was possible 2,000 people would be hospitalised a day, and 200,000 new daily cases, but it would be three weeks before the impact of Freedom Day tomorrow is known.

Prof Ferguson said: ‘We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.

‘The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.

‘It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.’

It came as the Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies.

 

The Health Secretary triggered fears of a disruptive ‘pingdemic’ striking at the heart of Government after reveling yesterday he has tested positive. 

Mr Javid had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

Late this morning a No10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid. 

‘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.’ 

In a tweet Mr Sunak said: ‘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.’

Earlier No10 had said Mr Johnson would take advantage of the scheme not widely available to the public, leading to accusations they were using a ‘VIP lane’ while ordinary families struggled. 

The move triggered a furious backlash as rules forcing close associates of Covid cases to self-isolate for 10 days threaten to bring Britain to its knees.

The NHS has warned of staff shortages, unions say factories could start closing with in days and there are fears over some food supplies.

Yesterday parts of the London Underground were forced to cease running due to a lack of staff.       

Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the situation would infuriate workers and hard-pressed parents.

‘For many of them, waking up this morning to hear that there is a special rule, an exclusive rule, for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak, they will be saying that this looks like one rule for them and something else for the rest of us,’ he told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday. 

‘Nobody understands how you can get access to this special treatment or 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 part of this pilot, why can’t schools apply to be part of this pilot test?

‘I do think a lot of people are going to be looking at this and thinking ‘what on earth is going on?”

Mr Ashworth 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 we break transmission and, of course, we know infections are rising.’

Richard Walker, the boss of frozen food chain Iceland, was also among those who blasted the PM today. 

He tweeted: ‘Shame the hundreds of Iceland staff who’ve been pinged can’t avoid self-isolation. We can all do a daily lateral flow test.’ 

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said members of the public who are pinged should still self-isolate.

He said the test-and-release pilot being used by Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak was being trialled by about 20 public sector organisations including Border Force and Transport for London.

He said the two minsters would be tested at a special testing centre which has been set up in Downing Street.

‘It is correct that the Cabinet Office and Downing Street are part of the pilot. I am not aware that other (government) departments are,’ Mr Jenrick told Sky News.

‘It means that you can be tested every day in specialist asymptomatic testing centres such at the one that has been set up in Downing Street.

‘It means that the Chancellor and the Prime Minister will be able to conduct the most essential Government meetings but the rest of their time will have to be spent isolating and not meeting up with family or friends or socialising.  So it is relatively restrictive.

The number of alerts sent out in relation to venues also more than doubled in seven days

Richard Walker, the boss of frozen food chain Iceland, was among those who blasted the PM today.

Boris Johnson CANCELS plans for a Churchillian Freedom Day speech as furious health chiefs accuse him of ‘letting virus rip’ 

Boris Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow were in complete disarray today amid a pulsating row over Freedom Day.

The Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies. 

Meanwhile public transport has also been hit, with parts of the London Underground forced to shut yesterday due to a lack of staff.

But at the same time leading public health officials from across the UK warned that tomorrow’s great unlocking in England – while other home nations take more cautious routes from lockdown – risked ‘letting Covid rip’.

The Mail on Sunday today revealed that Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian launch of Freedom Day after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections.

Officials had discussed marking the lifting of Covid restrictions with a rousing speech by the Prime Minister at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader – until scientific advisers took fright at the recent climb in cases.

Mr Johnson has abandoned his previously bullish attitude to tomorrow’s ditching of most restrictions – including social distancing and legal limits on gatherings – and is no longer referring to the moment as ‘irreversible’.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday described the situation as ‘very serious’, and raised the prospect of another lockdown this autumn. 

Mr Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if cases were still rising in September, ‘I think we are going to have to reconsider’.

He added the NHS dashboard’s warning light ‘is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’, although he admitted he was hopeful that enough people have had either the virus or vaccine for the country to be approaching herd immunity. 

On Friday, the UK recorded more than 50,000 daily cases of Covid for the first time since mid-January and that tally is soon expected to pass the previous peak of 68,000.

Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients admitted to hospital and 41 deaths.

But vaccination rates are slowing, with 67,956 people having their first dose on Friday, and 188,976 their second: daily rates were running well below the level at the height of the rollout.

The total number of people who have had both doses across the UK is now more than 35.7 million – just under 68 per cent of adults. 

‘I entirely appreciate that this isn’t available yet to wider members of the public and the frustration that they might feel listening to this.

‘Other members of the public who are pinged will have to self-isolate in the usual way and that is a really important part of our plan to keep Covid under control.’

It came as one of the UK’s top epidemiologists refused to rule out a new lockdown before Christmas today as Boris Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow collapsed into complete disarray.

Prof Neil Ferguson said he ‘can’t be certain’ over whether the country will need to lock down again in the winter before Christmas.

But he admitted that in a worst-case scenario ‘there may be a need to basically slow spread to some extent’ to ease pressure on the NHS

But appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that it was possible 2,000 people would be hospitalised a day, and 200,000 new daily cases, but it would be three weeks before the impact of Freedom Day tomorrow is known.

Prof Ferguson said: ‘We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.

‘The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.

‘It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.’

It came as the Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies.

After feeling ‘a bit groggy’ on Friday night, Mr Javid – who has been double-jabbed – took a lateral flow test yesterday. When it came back positive, he began self-isolating with his family pending the results of a more reliable PCR test.

He said his symptoms were ‘mild’ but there were immediate concerns over those he had been in contact with, including Ministers and senior civil servants.

Downing Street last night said that if Mr Javid’s PCR test came back positive, those he had been close to him would be traced.

The Health Secretary was pictured leaving No 10 on Friday, shortly before he began to feel unwell, and earlier in the week he had visited vulnerable people in a care home.

Schools, hospitals, transport services and factories have been decimated by staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic’ of notifications on the NHS Covid app.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told they have been close to someone who has tested positive so must self-isolate, while others have been contacted by Test and Trace call centres.

Unlike most ordinary members of the public, however, many Whitehall officials and Ministers have been able to carry on visiting their offices if they take a daily test. They include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who was ‘pinged’ in May when he flew out to Porto to watch the Champions League football final but was able to avoid self-isolation by entering a ‘research programme’ called the Daily Contact Testing Study.

Labour’s deputy leader  Angela Rayner tweeted: ‘Sorry for the unparliamentary language but this just takes the p***.

‘Not following the rules that they created and which they expect my constituents to follow. This Government treats the public with contempt and think they are above the law and that the rules don’t apply to them.’

And Lib Dem leader 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.’

The Whitehall scare – just hours before the so-called Freedom Day relaxation of Covid measures tomorrow – came as industry chiefs warned of food shortages and unemptied bins if urgent action was not taken to address the sensitivity of the app.

One London Underground line closed yesterday when control room staff were forced to self-isolate, and teaching unions said there had been reports of children being taken out of school because parents were scared of losing family holidays if they were ‘pinged’.

Meanwhile, Ministers warned that France could be moved to the ‘red list’ of countries over fears that the South African, or Beta, variant spreading rapidly in the country could evolve to evade the vaccine.

On Friday night, the Government excluded France from new rules for amber list countries that allow double-jabbed travellers to escape up to ten days of home quarantine on their return, sparking anger among holidaymakers and the travel industry.

If France is added to the red list, returning Britons would be forced to pay up to £1,750 for a ten-day stay in a quarantine hotel – although there are only thought to be about 20,000 such rooms available and up to 500,000 Britons are estimated to be in France.

Mr Javid was appointed Health Secretary three weeks ago after Matt Hancock resigned. Leaked footage showed Mr Hancock breaching social distancing rules by embracing his aide Gina Coladangelo in his Westminster office.

Announcing his positive test on Twitter yesterday, Mr Javid – who has had two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine – wrote: ‘I’m waiting for my PCR result, but thankfully I have had my jabs and symptoms are mild. Please make sure you come forward for your vaccine if you haven’t already.’

He visited Aashna House care home in Streatham, South London, on Tuesday. All staff and residents have been vaccinated and the home said yesterday that it has no current Covid cases. 

Mr Javid also visited a care home in South London on Tuesday, congratulating managers for vaccinating 100% of the staf


Mr Javid had his first Oxford-AstraZeneca jab on March 17 (left) and was given a follow up dose on May 16 (right)

In a more positive sign, SAGE today estimated England’s R rate is between 1.2 and 1.4, down from last week’s figure of between 1.2 and 1.5

Former prime minister Tony Blair has warned that 10million people will be isolating because of the ‘pingdemic’ by August 16 and the economy will be plunged into chaos.  

Mr Blair’s Institute for Global Change is due to publish a report tomorrow which predicts that the number of people forced to isolate because of the Test and Trace app could reach that figure by August 16. 

On that date a ‘test to release’ scheme is expected to come into play which would let people stop self-isolating if they get a negative test result.   

The report, Risks and Restrictions: Striking the Right Balance, will advise that people who have had both vaccines or is under 18 shouldn’t have to self-isolate. And that people who have received one dose should be entitled to a ‘fast release’ if they test negative four days after being pinged. 

And he adds that quarantine should be shortened from 10 days to seven even if someone tests positive. 

He told The Sunday Times: ‘The starting point for me is that you’ve got to have a consistent risk calculus. There’s no point trying to obliterate risk in one part of the landscape while you’re opening yourself up to substantial risk in another part.’ 

He added that treating vaccinated and unvaccinated people differently is the only way to achieve a ‘consistent approach to risk’.  

Pingdemic paralysis spreads: Marks and Spencer could shut early, rail services are axed, the post is hit, National Trust house closes, MOT bookings pile up and business close as millions go into Covid isolation

‘Pingdemic’ chaos is spreading across Britain today with more businesses announcing temporary closures and services facing delays due to the growing number of staff being told to self-isolate.

Rail users in the north of England and parts of Wales are being warned of delays – after a London tube line was closed entirely yesterday – due to a shortage of drivers.

Pubs, many of which are ramping-up staffing levels ahead of Monday’s ‘Freedom Day’, are temporarily closing due to staff being ordered into isolation by the NHS Covid-19 app. 

Hair salons, which are still recovering from months of lockdown, are also having to close, along with sports facilities.

Schools are also facing tough decisions on whether to move classes online close early for the summer due to rising numbers of teachers and staff in isolation. 

Royal Mail sorting offices have also been hit, while garden waste collections in some areas have been suspended to allow isolation-hampered councils to focus on waste bins.

Meanwhile, as temperatures soar to 86F in some parts of England, some tourist attractions are having to close due to a lack of staff. 

And today a warning was issued of a potential MOT backlog, with garages having to mass cancel bookings due to their mechanics being forced into isolation.

It comes as Transport for London (TfL) was yesterday forced to shut the Metropolitan tube line amid staff shortages.  

M&S bosses also warned last night that store hours may have to be cut with up to one in five supermarket staff forced into Covid isolation.

Around 1.8million people self-isolated last week in England. That includes 194,000 people who tested positive, 520,000 who were ‘pinged’ by the app, almost 340,000 who were contacted directly by Test and Trace, and 750,000 schoolchildren

M&S boss warns store hours may have to be cut with up to one in five supermarket staff forced into Covid isolation in Freedom Day ‘pingdemic’ chaos 

The boss of Marks and Spencer has warned that store hours may have to be cut amid Covid ‘pingdemic’ chaos in the wake of ‘Freedom Day’ next week.

Steve Rowe said the number of test and trace app ‘pings’ is growing exponentially – at about three times the rate of Coivd cases – and that by mid-August as many as one in five supermarket workers could be in home isolation.

‘If there’s shortages we’ll have to manage it by changing hours of stores [and] reducing hours,’ he said.

His warning comes amid fears of food shortages when supply chain workers such as lorry drivers inevitably caught in the track and trace net, meaning supplies rot before they can be sold.

Tesco told ministers last month that 48 tons of food was being binned every week due to a driver shortage, a situation that is bound to be made worse when almost all Covid restrictions are lifted on Monday.

The NHS test and trace app has been in use since last year, sending alerts to ‘close contacts’ of Covid cases and telling them to self-isolate to reduce the risk of asymptomatic infection.

But, until the development of vaccines, high case numbers meant lockdowns – reducing the number of contacts each person had and therefore the chances of them getting ‘pinged’.

Now, with vaccines keeping hospital admissions down, the government is content to let cases rise significantly while allowing people to resume near-normal daily activities with lots of social contact – a combination that will massively increase the number of ‘pings’ the app sends out.

Staff shortages at ports and in the meat industry mean supermarket shelves could be left empty, with supply chains badly affected

And Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, yesterday claimed the app needs to be changed, adding that a quarter of junior doctors are currently in isolation.

Ministers have said the lifting of restrictions on Monday is likely to push daily infections to more than 100,000, which could force around half a million a day to self-isolate.

Today, services on Northern trains are being disrupted. Customers are being advised not to travel between Sheffield and Leeds via Moorthorpe, between Leeds and Doncaster, from Sheffield to Lincoln and between Sheffield and York because of delays.

They are also warning passengers of busier than usual services on coastal routes as Britons flock to the beach today with temperatures set to soar.

In an alert issued today:  ‘A number of front-line staff have either tested positive for COVID or having to self-isolate. 

‘Due to this, there will be a number of alterations on some Northern routes today.

‘In addition, Northern are also expecting busier services at popular leisure spots and routes out to the coast. 

‘Where possible, please try not to rely on the last service of the day.’

There are also reduced Transport of Wales services in the Cardiff area today due to a ‘shortage of train drivers’ – though the alert does not specifically say this is due to Covid isolation.

Meanwhile, more pubs are having to close due to a lack of staff. It comes as restrictions are set to be lifted tomorrow in what has been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ in England.

One pub owner, Steve Lomas, who runs Suffolk-based pub chain Deben Inns, took to Twitter to share his frustration.

He said: ‘Nine staff pinged, nine negative tests over five days and there still unable to come out of isolation. Business closed. 

‘Surely this is preposterous and is certainly unsustainable?’ 

Meanwhile, in Kendal, a market town on the edge of the Lake District, a pub has been forced to shut after weeks of battling to stay open in the face of staff shortages. 

Bosses of The Duke and of Cumberland announced on their Facebook page last night: ‘We have got a number of staff off or self isolating and we’ve been trying to keep going over the last couple of weeks on reduced staffing levels. 

‘Unfortunately two more staff have had to go off today so we will have to close for a few days until the full team is back. 

‘We don’t want to let anybody down so have tried to stay open but at the same time we are struggling with only a few staff and we don’t want to give you a bad experience or long waits when you visit.’ 

O’Neills in Reading, meanwhile, has now closed following a Covid-19 outbreak.

The pub had a sign on its front door, which reads: ‘Unfortunately, following the return of positive Covid-19 tests within the team, and being instructed to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, we are closing the pub for a short time as a precautionary measure.’

It adds: ‘We’re sorry for any disappointment this may cause, but we’d like to thank our guests and our team for their support shown and we look forward to welcoming you back soon.’

Also in Reading, residents were told this on Friday that they will not have their garden waste collected for at least the next two weeks after several staff from the council’s waste team were forced to self-isolate. 

Meanwhile, a salon in West Yorkshire announced it was having to close due to an outbreak. Empire Hair salon, near Halifax, said on Facebook: ‘ It’s took me a day to write this but I have had to close the doors for now at Empire.

‘We have one staff member isolating, one showing symptoms and awaiting results.

‘I felt for the safety of all our clients, and our staff I have decided to close our doors until we all have our tests results back, obviously hoping we won’t have to self isolate.’

Today the National Trust announced that one of its sites is having to close due to staff shortages caused by isolation.

Announcing a temporary close of Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire, the trust said: ‘Due partly to some staff self-isolating and awaiting results, mean the house will be temporarily closed on Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 July. 

‘The garden, woodland and tea room will remain open for visitors to enjoy. Thank you for your support.’  

Today teaching unions warned schools faced having to close early for the summer holidays due to a teacher shortage.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers faced a ‘grim situation’ in deciding whether to close up a week early because of the number of staff in isolation.

He told the Observer: ‘It is an absolutely grim situation and a depressing end to an academic year in which schools and colleges have been fighting to keep education running for their students despite waves of disruption caused by the pandemic.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said headteachers faced a ‘grim situation’ in deciding whether to close up a week early because of the number of staff in isolation

‘Schools are remaining open until the end of term where possible but we are hearing more reports of some having to close because of Covid-related cases and absence among pupils and staff.’ 

It comes as Royal Mail warned earlier this week of postal delays in the Peterborough earlier this week due to staff having to self-isolate.  

A Royal Mail spokesperson told the Peterborough Telegraph: ‘A number of colleagues are self-isolating at the Orton Southgate Delivery Office following a positive case of COVID-19. We wish our colleague a speedy recovery.

‘This temporary impact on staffing levels may result in some disruption to services and we apologise to any impacted customers in advance. We are working hard to restore normal service levels as quickly as possible.’

There is also now concern about delays to MOT services due to garage staff having to self-isolate due to the NHS Covid-19 app.

Jonathan Barbera, founder of Parkers MOT said concerns over staff catching the illness was now the ‘biggest problem’ facing garages.   

Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: ‘It’s the biggest problem we’ve got so far. We’ve really tightened everything at work to try and avoid this.

‘The problem is if one of them gets pinged then everyone else who they have come into contact with will also need to go into isolation.’  

It comes as yesterday a London Tube line had to be suspended and two others partially closed due to a staff shortage triggered by workers being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid-19 app. 

The Metropolitan Line was not running yesterday after control room staff received an alert from the app this morning telling them to stay at home.

Services on the Piccadilly and District line were also affected, with partial closures to last until at least 9pm yesterday.

It comes as industry bosses are warning that Britain faces food shortages with shops being closed early and bins not emptied for ten weeks if urgent action is not taken to address the so-called ‘pingdemic’.  

Richard Jones, London Underground’s head of network operations, said: ‘Due to a shortage of control room staff who are having to self-isolate following notification this morning via the Test and Trace app, there will be no service on the Metropolitan line for the rest of the day.

‘This will also impact the Piccadilly line with no service between South Harrow and Uxbridge and no service on the District line between High Street Kensington and Edgware.

‘Services are expected to resume on the Piccadilly and District lines at 9pm this evening.

‘We apologise to customers for the disruption. London Underground tickets will be accepted on local bus services.’ 

The suspension to Tube services comes after warnings to the Government over a ‘surge’ in workers and medics being forced into self-isolation over coronavirus contacts when most restrictions end in England on Monday.

Transport unions have said there will be ‘dire consequences’ next week when staff are ‘pinged’ as the level of infections rise.

It comes after Transport for London (TfL) had to scramble to find cover on the day of the Euro 2020 final, after a staff shortage due to workers being ‘pinged’ risked the Bakerloo line having to be suspended an hour before kick-off. 

Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) general secretary Mick Lynch previously warned that Monday ‘will see a surge in workers pinged with a self-isolation instruction next week’.

‘Even at this late stage, the Government, the train operators and the bus companies should issue a clear, legally backed instruction that levels up the rest of the UK to the safety standards that will remain in force in Wales and Scotland,’ he said.

Elsewhere in the country, passengers were warned of alterations on some Northern routes this weekend due to a number of front-line staff either testing positive for Covid-19 or having to self-isolate.

According to the National Rail Enquiries website, trains may be cancelled in both directions on services connecting Huddersfield, Sheffield and Lincoln, Sheffield with Leeds, Retford and York and between Leeds and Doncaster.

Meanwhile, West Midlands Trains warned yesterday that the number of staff having to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace app had ‘quadrupled’ in recent weeks, leading to ‘trains being cancelled at short notice and fewer carriages being available on some services’.

The Metropolitan Line suspension in London today came as Wembley Stadium, near to Wembley Park station on the north-west section of the line, prepared to host thousands of fans for the rugby league Challenge Cup final at 3pm.

The station is also serviced by the Jubilee line which was still running, while Wembley Stadium and Wembley Central stations are also near the ground. 

It follows estimates which suggest the UK economy is expected to be hit by £4billion in losses after it reopens fully on Monday’s ‘Freedom Day’ because workers are being forced to stay at home after being told to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Marks and Spencer said it will be forced to reduce its opening hours and because of the sheer number of staff told to remain at home after coming into contact with an infected person. 

Staff shortages at ports and in the meat industry mean supermarket shelves could be left empty, with supply chains badly affected 

And Jeremy Hunt, the former Health Secretary, today claimed the app needs to be changed, adding that a quarter of junior doctors are currently in isolation.

Ministers have said the lifting of restrictions on Monday is likely to push daily infections to more than 100,000, which could force around half a million a day to self-isolate. 

Analysis by MailOnline suggests that in a worst-case scenario around six million adults could be in isolation by the end of the month. 

Britain’s daily infection toll breached 50,000 yesterday for the first time since January. Anyone who tests positive is told to self-isolate and has their contacts traced. 

But because the Bluetooth phone app ‘pings’ all those who have been in close contact with positive cases, the number of people self-isolating at home at any one time is far higher.

Unlike those people contacted by phone, it is not a legal requirement to self-isolate after being pinged by the app. But Downing Street today made it clear it expects people to do so. 

It raises the prospect of the economy grinding to a halt due to a chronic lack of available workers, even after the lockdown is supposed to have ended . 

Business leaders and trade unionists from across all sector of the economy lined up to warn the Government that a major rethink is needed, because the current situation is not sustainable. 

A fifth of all private sector workers are currently having to self-isolate, according to industrial analysis. 

‘Professor Lockdown’ says Britain might have to shut down again in months – but urges the nation to be ‘patient’ and wait to see if cases start falling by September or stay high in a ‘worst-case scenario’

  • Boris Johnson had planned a major speech to celebrate the lifting of Covid rules in England tomorrow
  • But it was scrapped as Number 10 became anxious after Covid-19 infections continued to rise rapidly 
  • Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients hospitalised in growing crisis
  • Hundreds of thousands of people are also off work because they have been pinged by NHS Covid app 
  • Pingdemic closed part of the London Underground yesterday and raised concerns about food supplies 

One of the UK’s top epidemiologists refused to rule out a new lockdown before Christmas today as Boris Johnson’s plans for a triumphant end to more than six months of lockdown in England tomorrow collapsed into complete disarray.

Prof Neil Ferguson said he ‘can’t be certain’ over whether the country will need to lock down again in the winter before Christmas.

But he admitted that in a worst-case scenario ‘there may be a need to basically slow spread to some extent’ to ease pressure on the NHS

But appearing on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, he said that it was possible 2,000 people would be hospitalised a day, and 200,000 new daily cases, but it would be three weeks before the impact of Freedom Day tomorrow is known.  

Prof Ferguson said: ‘We’ll know it’s worked when case numbers plateau and start going down, we know then hospitalisations and deaths will take some more weeks.

‘The best projections suggest that could happen any time from, really, mid-August to mid-September. So, we will have to be patient.

‘It’ll also take us three weeks before we know the effect of Monday, of relaxing restrictions, and what that will do to case numbers. So, it’s going to be quite a period of time.’

It came as the Prime Minister found himself under attack from all sides of the political spectrum amid surging virus cases and hundreds of thousands being forced to self-isolate by the NHS Covid app.

Former prime minister Tony Blair led calls today for the quarantine rules to be axed for the fully vaccinated immediately as firms warned of imminent closures to factories, potentially affecting food supplies. 

Meanwhile public transport has also been hit, with parts of the London Underground forced to shut yesterday due to a lack of staff.

But at the same time leading public health officials from across the UK warned that tomorrow’s great unlocking in England – while other home nations take more cautious routes from lockdown – risked ‘letting Covid rip’.

The Mail on Sunday today revealed that Mr Johnson cancelled plans for a Churchillian launch of Freedom Day after No 10 became alarmed by the surge in the number of infections. 

Covid hospitalisations are above the levels estimated by SAGE for mid-July, at 559 on average. SAGE says there could be 2,000 a day in August when they think the second wave will peak

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has abandoned plans for a Churchillian victory speech tomorrow because of the rapidly escalating numbers of Covid-19 infection 

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt called the situation ‘very serious’ and raised the prospect of a lockdown this autumn

Boris U-turns and will NOT use testing pilot to dodge quarantine 

Boris Johnson was forced into a humiliating U-turn this morning after attempting to side-step quarantine despite close contact with Sajid Javid, who has Covid.

The Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced earlier they would use a little-known pilot scheme which allows people out of self-isolation every day to continue working if they pass a daily lateral flow test.

But amid red-hot fury from politicians, business leaders and the public they caved in within hours and revealed they would join thousands of people who are having to self-isolate. 

They had faced accusations they were accessing a ‘VIP lane’ that was not available workers who are having to isolate, bringing some businesses and public transport o the bring of collapse.

The Health Secretary triggered fears of a disruptive ‘pingdemic’ striking at the heart of Government after reveling yesterday he has tested positive. 

Mr Javid had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

Late this morning a No10 spokesman said: ‘The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid. 

‘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.’ 

In a tweet Mr Sunak said: ‘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.’

But Labour leader 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.

‘Yet again the Conservatives fixed the rules to benefit themselves, and only backtracked when they were found out. They robbed the bank, got caught and have now offered to give the money back.’ 

Officials had discussed marking the lifting of Covid restrictions with a rousing speech by the Prime Minister at an historic venue associated with the wartime leader – until scientific advisers took fright at the recent climb in cases.

Mr Johnson has abandoned his previously bullish attitude to tomorrow’s ditching of most restrictions – including social distancing and legal limits on gatherings – and is no longer referring to the moment as ‘irreversible’.

Sage adviser Dr Neil Ferguson today admitted that the UK could hit 2,000 daily hospitalisations and 200,000 daily infections, which would put pressure on the NHS. He confirmed he would continue to wear a mask into the autumn, on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

Former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday described the situation as ‘very serious’, and raised the prospect of another lockdown this autumn. 

Mr Hunt, who is now chairman of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee, said that if cases were still rising in September, ‘I think we are going to have to reconsider’.

He added the NHS dashboard’s warning light ‘is not flashing amber, it is flashing red’, although he admitted he was hopeful that enough people have had either the virus or vaccine for the country to be approaching herd immunity. 

A Government source said: ‘The plan had been for Boris to effectively declare victory over the virus by summoning the spirit of Churchill, with appropriately stirring rhetoric. That no longer feels appropriate.’

Despite the relaxation in rules, the official guidelines still advise that facemasks should be worn in enclosed spaces such as shops and on public transport, while pubs and bars should be table service only.

Mr Johnson published a biography of Churchill, writing that ‘he alone saved our civilisation’.

Critics detected an attempt to draw parallels with his predecessor when the Prime Minister described him as ‘a thoroughgoing genius’ although ‘there were too many Tories who thought of him as an unprincipled opportunist’.

On Friday, the UK recorded more than 50,000 daily cases of Covid for the first time since mid-January and that tally is soon expected to pass the previous peak of 68,000.

Yesterday, the number of daily cases hit 54,674, with 740 patients admitted to hospital and 41 deaths.

But vaccination rates are slowing, with 67,956 people having their first dose on Friday, and 188,976 their second: daily rates were running well below the level at the height of the rollout.

The total number of people who have had both doses across the UK is now more than 35.7 million – just under 68 per cent of adults. 

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said he thought the current wave ‘will be quite long and drawn out… my hunch is that we are looking at a high level of incidence for a protracted period right through the summer and probably much of the autumn’.

He added that with infections doubling every two weeks, the number of cases could soon reach 100,000 a day – something which he ascribed to the number of young people still unvaccinated.

Underlining the risks involved in the unlocking, Sajid Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid and was self-isolating – describing his symptoms as ‘mild’ and saying he has been double-jabbed.

Even as fellow MPs rushed to wish him well, alarm bells started ringing over a ‘pingdemic’ at the heart of government – with ‘close contacts’ of the health secretary potentially forced into 10-day home isolation.

The Health Secretary had visited the Commons and Downing Street in previous days – and is understood to have held a lengthy face-to-face meeting with Boris Johnson just before his symptoms developed – sparking concerns that senior figures across Whitehall would have to be confined to home.

One insider warned that ‘half the Cabinet’ could be in isolation by the end of the week.

After feeling ‘a bit groggy’ on Friday night, Mr Javid – who has been double-jabbed – took a lateral flow test yesterday. When it came back positive, he began self-isolating with his family pending the results of a more reliable PCR test.

He said his symptoms were ‘mild’ but there were immediate concerns over those he had been in contact with, including Ministers and senior civil servants.

Downing Street last night said that if Mr Javid’s PCR test came back positive, those he had been close to him would be traced.

The Health Secretary was pictured leaving No 10 on Friday, shortly before he began to feel unwell, and earlier in the week he had visited vulnerable people in a care home.

Schools, hospitals, transport services and factories have been decimated by staff shortages caused by the ‘pingdemic’ of notifications on the NHS Covid app.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been told they have been close to someone who has tested positive so must self-isolate, while others have been contacted by Test and Trace call centres.

Unlike most ordinary members of the public, however, many Whitehall officials and Ministers have been able to carry on visiting their offices if they take a daily test. 

They include Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove, who was ‘pinged’ in May when he flew out to Porto to watch the Champions League football final but was able to avoid self-isolation by entering a ‘research programme’ called the Daily Contact Testing Study.

The Whitehall scare – just hours before the so-called Freedom Day relaxation of Covid measures tomorrow – came as industry chiefs warned of food shortages and unemptied bins if urgent action was not taken to address the sensitivity of the app.

One London Underground line closed yesterday when control room staff were forced to self-isolate, and teaching unions said there had been reports of children being taken out of school because parents were scared of losing family holidays if they were ‘pinged’.

Social distancing, working from home, masks in shops and on public transport: What WILL and what WON’T change as Freedom Day arrives

People in England will today emerge from lockdown with the government’s final major easing of restrictions – but so called ‘Freedom Day’ has come come with a note of caution.

Just over four months after setting off on the government’s roadmap, last week Boris Johnson confirmed that the country could finally make its much-awaited last step towards freedom on Monday, July 19.

‘We think now is the right moment to proceed’ he said in press conference statement, before warning: ‘It is absolutely vital that we proceed now with caution.’

For the much-touted end to face masks and scrapping of social distancing has given way under reports of over 50,000 new Covid cases a day – a result of the rapidly spreading Delta variant – and rising hospitalisations.

While the law may be changing, as the Mail will highlight here, the government, other public bodies and businesses have started issuing strong guidance for people who are travelling, shopping or out socialising.

The Prime Minister’s tone has also changed, and he no longer says ‘cautious, but irreversible’ when referring to unlocking the country, with fears of a return of restrictions in the autumn.

Mr Johnson will not even be out celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ or making his previously planned Churchillian speech – he is having to isolate after being pinged due to his contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who recently tested positive for Covid.

The revelation about Mr Johnson being collared by Test and Trace has sent alarm bells ringing over a ‘pingdemic’ at the heart of government and beyond – a huge dampener to what was meant to be a celebratory end of a hard slog.

Here, the Mail looks at the rules that are changing today and what guidance has been issued to replace it in some areas:

 

But Boris Johnson will not be out celebrating ‘Freedom Day’ or making his previously planned Churchillian speech – he is having to isolate after being pinged due to his contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who recently tested positive for Covid

FACE MASKS

Legal rules mandating the wearing of face masks will be axed.

However, despite ministers previously saying they want to ditch coverings as soon as they are voluntary, guidance will state that they are ‘expected and recommended’ in crowded spaces.

Guidance published last night said: ‘Government expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport.’ 

London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan has broken rank to ordered they be kept compulsory on the Tube, buses and taxis. He was backed by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps who said he had ‘expected’ operators to put in place ‘conditions of carriage’ to ensure that passengers were safe on public transport.

Regional leaders such as Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have also said the restrictions would stay on transport in his city.

Private companies will be allowed to make them a requirement for entry, as Ryanair has already announced on its flights.

An ONS survey this week found that nearly two thirds of adults will continue to wear masks in shops and on public transport.

Passengers on the London underground and several other train lines Will still have to wear masks unless exempt – after bosses defied the government’s change to the law by putting in place their own guidance

GOING TO PUBS

It will no longer be a legal requirement to scan a QR code on entry to a venue as part of the test and trace system. However, venues will be allowed to make use of the codes a requirement for entry if they choose.

It will also no longer be a legal requirement for pubs to require customers to order drinks at their tables.

However, some pub chains may continue this – meaning that people will still not be able to go to the bar if an individual pub bans it.

SOCIAL DISTANCING RULES

The one-metre rule will be scrapped in law – meaning fewer Perspex screens in offices.

It also means hospitality businesses like pubs and restaurants won’t have to limit customers to ensure they are spaced apart. 

But people are now being strongly advised to ‘minimise the number, proximity and duration of social contacts’.

Chris Whitty even suggested that people should avoid ‘unnecessary meetings’ – and said everyone should continue to abide by ‘hands, face, space’.

However, the one-metre rule will continue to be enforced at borders, such as in airports, amid concern over people coming into the country with variants. 

Social distancing rules in pubs and restaurants will be scrapped from today. The change will mean many businesses that were too small to open before will finally be able to open their doors (stock photo)

SELF-ISOLATION RULES

There had been hopes that the requirement for the double-jabbed to self-isolate for up to 10 days when they are ‘pinged’ for coming in contact with a positive case would be dropped from July 19.

However, that date was pushed back to August 16 by Health Secretary Sajid Javid amid concerns about fueling rising infection numbers.

The rules on self-isolation for those who have not had two doses are staying in place for the time being.

However, officials are working on ways of making the NHS app less sensitive to avoid millions of people being doomed to house arrest.

And ministers have said work is ongoing on a system of daily testing that could potentially replace the self-isolation regime.   

The governments ‘work from home’ message will be scrapped, but replaced with advice that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high

WORKING FROM HOME

The Government’s ‘work from home’ message will end and employers will be able to start to plan a return to workplaces, some having been empty since last March.

But the decision of course is still be up to individual employers.

Some may decide to continue with working from home for the foreseeable future, although city centre businesses such as cafes and retail have been hugely affected by the lack of office workers.

Government advice will also be that any return to offices should be ‘gradual’ over the summer while cases are high. 

The guidance states: ‘Whilst government is no longer instructing people to work from home if they can, government would expect and recommend a gradual return over the summer.’ 

Although guidance to employers will be slimmed down, it will still encourage them to ensure rooms are properly ventilated to minimise risk.

CAP ON CARE HOME VISITS

The current restriction that people can only be seen by five named visitors will be scrapped.

But strict infection-control measures – such as the wearing of PPE and regular cleaning – will continue, with more detail to be announced later. 

Restrictions on festivals and other large outdoor events will also end, meaning Reading and Leeds and the Isle of Wight festival (pictured, 2017) will be allowed to go ahead later this year

COVID PASSPORTS

Covid status certification – so-called vaccine passports – will not be legally required within England.

It is being left up to individual venues to decide themselves whether to demand Covid status certification through the NHS App as a condition of entry.

The government is ‘encouraging’ the use of Covid certification for large events. 

Owners of busy indoor venues such as nightclubs and busy city-centre bars have been told to consider bringing in the passports.

The government will ‘encourage’ businesses and large events to use the NHS Covid Pass in ‘high risk settings’ – that is, where people are likely to be in ‘close proximity to others outside their household’.

Few details have been given, but the guidance could cover theatres, cinemas, indoor concerts and exhibitions. The government many consider mandating certification in certain venues at a later date. 

TRAVEL 

A new system to allow double-jabbed people to avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries will come into force from July 19 – with one big exception. 

A government U-turn announced on Friday night now means that even vaccinated Brits returning from France will have to quarantine – sparking fury as families were forced to cancel trips to France at the last-minute. 

From today, double-jabbed people can avoid quarantine after returning from amber-list countries. However, travellers from France, where there is a large number of Beta variant cases, will not be part of the rule relaxation

RULE OF SIX

There will be no legal limits on social contact, meaning groups will not have to limit themselves to six people or two households if they are mixing indoors. 

Groups outdoors can be as large as people want them to be.

WEDDING AND FUNERAL CAP

The limits on attendance at weddings, funerals and other major life events are being scrapped.

ART AND SPORT VENUE LIMITS

There will be no more restrictions on the size of an audience at a concert or a show, or a crowd at a sports fixture, which means theatres and stadiums can run at full capacity.

NIGHTCLUBS

All other legal requirements for venues to close will be lifted, allowing night-time industries – including nightclubs – to reopen for the first time since the pandemic began.

SINGING CURBS

No restrictions on singing, or even guidance to restrict it. It means singing by church choirs can continue – as can karaoke nights.  

 

Don’t panic! Vaccines are working just as expected  

Analysis by STEPHEN ADAMS, Medical Editor 

MANY will be alarmed that despite being double-jabbed, Sajid Javid has tested positive for Covid-19.

The Health Secretary is by no means a rare case: GPs across the country are seeing increasing numbers of fully inoculated patients catching the virus.

In fact, more than 15,500 partly or fully vaccinated people a day are reporting Covid symptoms, according to the latest research.

That number has soared by about 40 per cent in a week, says the ZOE Covid Symptom Study, which uses an app downloaded by at least three million people to track the disease.

Astonishingly, ZOE data suggests the number of new cases in vaccinated people – called ‘breakthrough’ infections – is set to outstrip unvaccinated cases within days.

A woman receives a Covid vaccine at a pop-up centre in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall to protect herself against the virus

So what is going on? Thankfully, the message from scientists and clinicians this weekend is reassuring: a jump in cases among the jabbed was always expected and does not mean vaccines are failing. 

While highly effective against preventing hospitalisation and deaths, both the AstraZeneca and Pfizer jabs are markedly less effective at preventing any sign of infection. Put simply, the jabs are better at blunting the virus than snuffing it out completely.

Latest figures show two doses of AstraZeneca are 67 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic disease from the Indian – or Delta – variant that now accounts for almost all Covid cases in the UK, while two doses of Pfizer are 88 per cent effective.

In contrast, two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine cut the risk of hospitalisation by 92 per cent. The figure is 96 per cent for two doses of Pfizer.

Such figures are being borne out on the NHS front line: a growing number of vaccinated people are displaying symptoms – but most are not falling seriously ill.

‘We are speaking to lots of Covid-positive patients who have had two vaccines,’ Dr Richard Cook, a GP in Sussex, told Pulse magazine last week. ‘Anecdotally they do not seem to be getting too unwell, and I’m not aware of any of ours being in hospital.’

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, who leads the ZOE study, said: ‘In the UK, new cases in vaccinated people are still going up and will soon outpace unvaccinated cases. 

Members of the public queue outside to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at a mass-jab centre in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall

‘This is probably because we’re running out of unvaccinated susceptible people to infect as more and more people get the vaccine.

‘While the figures look worrying, it’s important to highlight that vaccines have massively reduced severe infections and post-vaccination Covid is a much milder disease for most people.’

NHS vaccination figures back up Prof Spector’s analysis – the pool of totally unvaccinated adults has shrunk from 20 million three months ago to seven million now. Meanwhile, the number of double-jabbed people has risen from ten million to 35.7 million.

Dr Raghib Ali, a senior clinical research associate in epidemiology at the University of Cambridge, said: ‘Inevitably, some people who are vaccinated will get infected. That’s clear.’

Mr Javid is not the first prominent individual to catch Covid despite being double-jabbed. Last month BBC journalist Andrew Marr, who had had the Pfizer jab, revealed he caught the virus while covering the G7 summit in Cornwall.

He said yesterday the infection had been ‘really, really horrid’, adding: ‘Even if you’re double-vaccinated, you don’t have superpowers – you can still get ill.’

When Marr asked Oxford University’s Covid expert Professor Sir Peter Horby in late June if he had simply been ‘unlucky’, the scientist agreed – but said as vaccination levels rose ‘the majority of infections’ would be in those jabbed.

‘That doesn’t mean the vaccines don’t work – breakthroughs are expected,’ Prof Horby added. ‘What we want to do is prevent hospitalisations and deaths, and the vaccines do that very effectively.’

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