What is the Covid workplace testing scheme Downing Street is part of?

It emerged on Sunday morning that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak could have avoided the need to self-isolate for 10 days despite being contacts of the health secretary, Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19.

They were due to be part of a workplace pilot scheme trialling tests instead of isolation. An abrupt U-turn in the face of public anger means the prime minister and chancellor will now self-isolate.

What pilot scheme is Downing Street enrolled in?

A “workplace testing” scheme involving 20 public bodies that have set up asymptomatic testing sites. Individuals from those organisations who have had contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid can go to work on the basis that they are using lateral flow tests but must self-isolate when not at work.

How can someone join the scheme, and who has benefited?

Organisations on the scheme include government departments, Transport for London, Network Rail and Border Force. Downing Street did not divulge the other bodies taking part as they had not given consent, but a full list will be published after results are in.

The communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, described it as “well known and long-standing” although there is no obvious mention of the scheme online. Downing Street insists it is “totally separate” from another project, the “daily contact testing study”, which was set up in May and splits participants at random into two groups. One cohort, a control group, has to self-isolate, while the other – numbering up to 40,000 people when the pilot was established – takes daily rapid tests.

The Cabinet Office minister, Michael Gove, benefited after being “pinged” by the Covid-19 app following a trip to Portugal for the Champions League final in May.

When is it necessary to self-isolate?

In England, it is a legal requirement to self-isolate if you are identified as a contact and told to self-isolate by NHS test and trace. Those who are “pinged” by the app as a contact of another user who has tested positive for Covid-19 are “advised” – but not legally obliged – to isolate for 10 days.

Separate guidance is in place for health and social care workers. Those providing direct care to a patient or a resident with Covid, and who have been wearing the correct PPE, are not considered to be a contact for the purposes of contact tracing and isolation. The government has been coming under pressure to make more key workers, including those in meat-processing plants, exempt from isolation following contact with a Covid case.

From 16 August, double-vaccinated people and under-18s in England will not have to isolate if they had their second jab at least two weeks earlier.

Who is bearing the brunt of directions to self-isolate?

Up to 1.6 million people were told to isolate in a single week, Guardian analysis found, including more than 520,000 contacted by the Covid-19 app – up 46% in a week. But the government said the app was likely to remain unchanged for weeks.

Rubbish bins in parts of England are going uncollected, West End theatre shows have been cancelled and some health workers have been urged to postpone holidays because of staff shortages. The situation, branded a “pingdemic”, has led to demands from industry leaders for help amid widespread staff shortages as workers are forced to isolate en masse.

Soaring cases are responsible, with more than one in 100 people in England estimated to have Covid, and the situation is expected to worsen after further reopening on Monday. Test and trace does not yet take account of vaccination status.


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