Covid UK: Government massively expands list of workers who don’t have to isolate

Binmen, vets and prison officers will be able to continue working if ‘pinged’ as the government expands a pilot programme for daily COVID-19 testing to a wider range of key employers. 

Under current British government guidance, close contacts of people who test positive for COVID-19 are strongly advised to self-isolate for 10 days, unless they can take part in a daily COVID tests to confirm that they too are not infected. 

The Government announced last week that some fully vaccinated staff in some critical sectors would be exempt from having to self-isolate if they are ‘pinged’ as a close contact of a positive coronavirus case. 

Those people will be subject to daily Covid-19 testing instead, allowing them to continue to go to work. 

The Ministry of Health has now confirmed an expansion of sectors that can take daily tests instead of isolating.  

‘In addition to critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HMRC will also be prioritised for the 1,200 new daily contact testing sites,’ the health ministry said in a statement. 

The hospitality sector was not included in the expansion, meaning staff who are ‘pinged’ will still have to quarantine.  

Ministers had met today to discuss expanding the eligibility criteria for workers in key areas to avoid the stay at home requirement amid mounting fears over the strain placed on crucial national infrastructure by the ‘pingdemic’. 

Binmen, vets and prison officers will be able to continue working if 'pinged' as the government expands a pilot programme for daily COVID-19 testing to a wider range of key employers (file image)

Binmen, vets and prison officers will be able to continue working if ‘pinged’ as the government expands a pilot programme for daily COVID-19 testing to a wider range of key employers (file image) 

'In addition to critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HMRC will also be prioritised for the 1,200 new daily contact testing sites,' the health ministry said in a statement

‘In addition to critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HMRC will also be prioritised for the 1,200 new daily contact testing sites,’ the health ministry said in a statement 

Ministers had met today to discuss expanding the eligibility criteria for workers in key areas to avoid the stay at home requirement amid mounting fears over the strain placed on crucial national infrastructure by the 'pingdemic'

Ministers had met today to discuss expanding the eligibility criteria for workers in key areas to avoid the stay at home requirement amid mounting fears over the strain placed on crucial national infrastructure by the ‘pingdemic’

The Covid operations sub-committee of Cabinet was set to look at extending the rollout of daily testing sites for coronavirus and to consider granting further exemptions. 

The DHSC said in a statement that the government had expanded daily contact testing with 1,200 new sites across frontline sectors, ‘helping to avoid disruption to crucial services’.

It continued: ‘Workplace daily contact testing sites will be expanded to a total of 2,000 sites across the country, with prisons, waste collection and defence among the critical sectors prioritised for the newest sites. This expansion follows last week’s initial announcement of 800 sites for the food industry, transport workers, Border Force staff, frontline police and fire services.

SECTORS ELIGIBLE TO TAKE DAILY TESTS AND NOT HAVE TO ISOLATE

The Government announced that some fully vaccinated staff in some critical sectors would be exempt from having to self-isolate if they are ‘pinged’.  

People working in those sectors will be subject to daily Covid-19 testing instead, allowing them to keep working.  

The list of sectors now includes:  

  • The food industry
  • Transport workers
  • Border Force staff
  • Frontline police 
  • Fire services
  • Prisons
  • Defence 
  • Waste collection
  • Energy
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Telecoms
  • Chemicals
  • Communications
  • Water
  • Space
  • Fish
  • Veterinary medicine 
  • HMRC

‘Daily contact testing using rapid lateral flow tests will enable eligible workers who have received alerts from the NHS Covid 19 app or have been called by NHS Test and Trace and told they are a contact and to isolate, to continue working if they test negative each day.’

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said: ‘Critical workers up and down the country have repeatedly stepped up to the challenge of making sure our key services are delivered and communities are supported.

‘We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will continue to support them to do their jobs safely and securely. This expansion of the daily contact testing centres is vital and hugely welcome.’

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: ‘Our Armed Forces have worked tirelessly throughout this pandemic, ensuring operations and training at home and abroad continue while at the same time providing round the clock support to the nation’s response to Covid.

‘Expanding the daily contact testing scheme is hugely welcome, allowing our personnel to continue that vital work across the UK and abroad.’

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘Whether it’s prison guards reporting for duty, waste collectors keeping our streets clean or workers in our energy sector keeping the lights on, critical workers have been there for us at every stage of this global pandemic.

‘As we learn to live with the virus, we will keep doing everything in our power to break chains of transmission and stop this virus in its tracks. Daily contact testing will play a vital role in this, helping minimise the potential for disruption caused by rising cases, while keeping staff protected.’

It came as it was claimed that just 25 of the Government’s promised 500 coronavirus testing sites for food distribution workers are up and running.  

Some 500 sites in the food sector – manufacturing facilities, food processing plants and supermarket depots – were reportedly contacted and informed they would be given testing capability to ensure staff could continue to work. 

But The Times reported that only approximately 25 of those sites were due to be operational from today. The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman was unable to confirm how many testing units are now live but insisted ‘it will be 500 by the end of the week’.    

Meanwhile, union bosses have urged key workers to ignore the Government’s exemptions from self-isolation and to stay at home for 10 days if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app. 

Union chiefs had urged key workers to ignore the Government's exemptions from self-isolation and stay home if they are 'pinged' by the NHS Covid app

Union chiefs had urged key workers to ignore the Government’s exemptions from self-isolation and stay home if they are ‘pinged’ by the NHS Covid app

Some 200 new test centres are going to be set up throughout the country to try and stem the chaos caused by the pindemic

Some 200 new test centres are going to be set up throughout the country to try and stem the chaos caused by the pindemic

Freedom day has prompted an extraordinary onslaught of pings to people following the coronavirus rules still left

Freedom day has prompted an extraordinary onslaught of pings to people following the coronavirus rules still left

Leaders from some of the UK’s biggest unions, including the RMT, Unison and Usdaw, are telling critical workers in transport, food and border control among other sectors to continue to quarantine if they are contacted by the app, citing fears staff could become infected in workplaces.

Steve Hedley, the RMT’s senior assistant general-secretary, also threatened strike action over the exemptions scheme, telling the Telegraph: ‘Why should our people be infected with Covid? We have discussed the possibility of taking action at a senior level, and I can say that nothing has been ruled out.’   

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said he would not support strike action as he insisted ‘we need to keep our critical sectors working’. 

Any move to defy the Government’s exemptions plans will spark concerns of further disruption to critical infrastructure as the nation braces for potential travel and food supply chaos. 

However, Education Minister Vicky Ford this morning tried to assuage the concerns of unions as she insisted the exemptions would only apply to ‘a really, really small number of people’ in ‘certain really, really crucial sectors’. 

Double-jabbed key workers are able to avoid house-arrest via a Downing Street testing scheme launched amid mounting fears over the chaos to key infrastructure caused by the so-called ‘pingdemic’ after more than 600,000 people were told to self-isolate by the NHS app last week.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has already been forced to apologise for delays at the border as families set off on the first weekend of the summer holidays, which were branded ‘total chaos’ by travellers and which he blamed on the ‘pingdemic’.  

Paddy Lillis, general secretary of retail and food manufacturing union Usdaw, said staff would be encouraged to stay at home rather than return to work and said: ‘Usdaw does not believe that the current situation in the food supply chain is critical or warrants the sector being placed on the exemption list.’ 

Christina McAnea, the general secretary of Unison, told the newspaper: ‘Anyone pinged or called by Test and Trace should isolate. Staying at home protects colleagues, neighbours, friends and everyone else too. No one should be forced into work when isolating, even those employees on the exempt list.’

Sir Keir told LBC Radio that he wants the exemptions to work as he signalled his opposition to the stance taken by the union leaders. 

Asked if he would support industrial action, the Labour leader said: ‘No, I don’t think that is the right way. I think that if it is possible to show that with a double vaccination and a negative test critical workers can go back to work I would support that.

Pictured: Empty soft drinks shelves in Tesco in Cardiff on Friday

Pictured: Empty soft drinks shelves in Tesco in Cardiff on Friday 

‘Obviously we need to keep an eye on how safe it is, we need to be cautious but we need to keep our critical sectors working and I think we should support exemptions which allow us to do that.’

Ministers today discussed the growing chaos across the UK’s critical infrastructure at a meeting of Covid-O, the Cabinet subcommittee handling pandemic operations. 

Ms Ford told Sky News: ‘I think it is important that we also minimise the disruption to the economy and that is why we have looked at certain really, really crucial sectors and are saying in those circumstances that double vaccinated adults if they haven’t had the positive test, they don’t have any symptoms then they can continue to work.

‘But this is a really, really small number of people in order to keep these truly essential services running.

‘It is services like, for example, police, fire, border control, some of the food sector, and some elements of transport as well.

‘But as I say, the key date to move forward to is just in a couple of weeks time, August 16, where all adults who have had that double vaccination they they will be able to avoid the self-isolation unless they have got symptoms or a positive test.’  

Downing Street was unable to say how many of the food sector-specific testing sites are up and running today. 

The PM’s Official Spokesman said: ‘We expect 500 sites to be able to test within this week and we said at the end of last week we have rolled out the workplace contact testing following the Government’s engagement with the industries that have been affected by self-isolation.

‘It is obviously the case that we want to avoid any disruption in critical services which is why we have expanded that testing.’

Pushed again on how many are operational amid the reports that it is only 25, the spokesman replied: ‘It will be 500 by the end of the week.’

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