3 min read19 July
Nadhim Zahawi has defended the Prime Minister over his decision to u-turn over self-isolation as he insisted the government were not taking the public “for fools”.
The Tory minister had repeated claims the Prime Minister and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had only “considered” taking part in a new pilot scheme which would have allowed them to escape self-isolation rules before swiftly dumping the plans.
Downing Street had faced a major backlash after it was announced early on Sunday morning that the pair would use the scheme after being told to self-isolate following close contact with health secretary Sajid Javid who had tested positive for the virus.
The pilot scheme, which has reportedly been running since December, allows selected people to avoid mandatory self-isolation by taking daily rapid coronavirus tests.
Just hours after the initial announcement, both Johnson and Sunak u-turned on the plans, claiming they had only “looked at” the possibility of using the pilot.
And speaking to the BBC’s Today programme, Zahawi insisted the PM had “considered” the scheme before opting to follow the regular self-isolation rules to send a “very clear message” to the public.
“This pilot scheme, both the Cabinet Office and Number 10 have subscribed to, has been running since December. And it is not just the Cabinet Office and Number 10, it is Network Rail, Transport for London, Heathrow and others as well,” he said.
“But I think the Prime Minister considered whether they would subscribe to the pilot scheme, but actually rightly, opted for self-isolation.
He added: “The Prime Minister considered it…and then he quite rightly wanted to make sure he sends a very clear message to the nation…”
And he denied the public had been “taken for fools” over the u-turn, adding there had been “no easy options” for ministers during the pandemic.
“Nobody is taking anyone for fools,” he said.
“Every decision that the Prime Minister has had to make throughout this pandemic has been a tough decision. There are no easy options here.”
The row came just hours after England lifted its final lockdown restrictions, leading to concerns that hundreds of thousands of people could be forced to self-isolate after being contacted by NHS test and trace.
Latest data from the NHS found over 500,000 people in England had been ‘pinged’ by the app in the first week of July, with unions and employers warning the programme could lead to mass staff absences.
Ministers have already announced that the self-isolation rules for those identified as a “close contact” of an infected person will be eased from 16 August, with those who have received both vaccines being able to avoid the ten day quarantine provided they test negative for the virus.
But Zahawi batted away suggestions the app could be altered to make it less sensitive in the coming weeks, saying the “right thing to do” was continue asking people identified by the app to self-isolate.
“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,” he told Sky News.
“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.”
However, the vaccines minister announced that some frontline NHS and social care staff would be given new exemptions from self-isolation from today, saying those who had received both doses of the vaccine could return to work if they received a negative PCR test and were “careful” about their contact with patients.
PoliticsHome provides the most comprehensive coverage of UK politics anywhere on the web, offering high quality original reporting and analysis: Subscribe