Boris Johnson and two cabinet ministers attended a conference in central London last week, several attendees of which have since developed Covid infections and been contacted by NHS Test and Trace.
Last Monday, the prime minister addressed business leaders and trade experts at think tank the Centre for Policy Studies’ (CPS) Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade. The majority of attendees and the prime minister did not wear a mask. The NHS recommends wearing a “face covering when it’s hard to stay away from other people – particularly indoors or in crowded places”.
The prime minister arrived at the Guildhall at around 7pm on Monday evening before giving a speech at a dinner organised in order to wrap up the conference.
The Independent understands that there are at least five positive Covid cases linked to the event, three of which attended the dinner and one of whom was in close proximity to the prime minister.
Three people who are now infected told The Independent that they believe the CPS conference was the likely point of infection. Several more attendees have been contacted by test and trace and asked to conduct PCR tests. It is not clear if any of these infections could be cases of the omicron variant as that can only be established through genomic sequencing.
On Sunday, Downing Street declined to say whether Mr Johnson had had a PCR test since attending. The Independent understands that as of Sunday afternoon, the prime minister had not been formally contacted by test and trace. This is also the case for the trade secretary and Lord Frost, it is understood.
It comes as the third known English case of the new and potentially troublesome omicron variant was discovered in someone who had spent time in the Westminster area. A further two cases were confirmed in London on Monday.
The CPS conference took place in the City’s Guildhall, with delegates from across Whitehall, Westminster and the UK. Brexit minister Lord Frost and trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan also attended the event, and were not seen wearing masks.
Cases have since been identified in Scotland without travel history to southern Africa. Deputy first minister John Swinney told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday that “on some of the cases involved we are satisfied there is no travel history or travel connection with southern Africa so that means it is likely that the omicron strain is circulating within the community”.
A spokesperson for the CPS declined to comment.
From 4am on Tuesday, the government will introduce “temporary and precautionary” measures to control the possible spread of the new omicron variant such as a reintroduction of masks in some areas for a period of three weeks, the prime minister said at a press conference on Saturday.
A host of countries have been added to the UK’s travel red list. Other steps will include a ramping up of Covid boosters to include all adults.
Downing Street has separately rejected a request from Scottish and Welsh leaders Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford for the self-isolation period for travellers to be extended until the result of a test on day eight after arriving in the UK.
Extending the requirements would have a “detrimental effect” on the travel industry, Boris Johnson’s official spokesperson said.
“We believe that the approach we’ve taken is the proportionate one to the evidence that we currently have available about this variant,” he said.
“Introducing further isolation requirements and testing requirements would have a detrimental effect on the travel individually industry and indeed those who are planning to go travelling.”