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Ministers to discuss rolling out further daily testing sites to ease ‘pingdemic’

·4-min read

Senior ministers are set to discuss extending the rollout of daily testing sites for coronavirus to ease the concerns of industry and frontline services by allowing further exemptions from isolation for critical workers.

The Covid operations sub-committee of Cabinet will meet on Monday to discuss whether to widen the number of jobs eligible for the testing regime, or whether to boost the numbers for existing sectors in order to tackle the “pingdemic”.

Their decisions will depend on the demand registered with Whitehall departments and the ministers’ determination of what roles are currently critical, with refuse collectors expected to receive assistance, while the hospitality industry is not.

The vast number of people isolating after being “pinged” as Covid contacts by the NHS app has been fuelled by the high numbers of coronavirus infections that has swept the nation as the Delta variant thrived and restrictions were eased.

While the number of new cases of Covid-19 reported each day in the UK has fallen for the fifth day in a row, it is too early for the data to show any impact of ending most of England’s remaining legal restrictions on July 19 because of the delay between people becoming infected and receiving tests.

Ministers have so far resisted pressure from business leaders and some senior Conservative MPs to immediately bring forward the wider relaxation of isolation rules for all fully-vaccinated people from August 16.

Instead they have been focusing on granting a limited number of exemptions to keep key services running and to protect essential supply chains.

Around around 10,000 workers in the food sector are expected to be included in the scheme for fully vaccinated workers to be exempt from isolation if they test negative.

Fans outside Wembley Stadium after the match between England and Scotland (Aaron Chown/PA)
Fans outside Wembley Stadium after the Euro 2020 group match between England and Scotland (Aaron Chown/PA)

But figures in the food industry have warned shortages on the shelves could continue without more exemptions in the supply chain, such as in supermarkets.

New testing sites are expected to be allocated for frontline police and fire services to prevent major shortages of critical staff.

The scale of the issue was shown by figures stating more than 600,000 people in England and Wales were told to quarantine by the NHS Covid-19 app in the week to July 14.

Policing minister Kit Malthouse apologised for delays at the border after travellers complained about “total chaos” at airports and suggested suggested some airline staff could receive some isolation exemptions.

He also acknowledged the “challenge” across policing in a Times Radio interview, as Metropolitan Police Federation Ken Marsh said 17% of officers in the capital were off last week, causing a “huge strain” on colleagues.

Reduced timetables have been introduced on railways across England after a spate of last-minute cancellations due to staff self-isolating.

Pubs and restaurants have been angered by the refusal to grant exemptions to any of their staff, with the UKHospitality industry body warning there could be a “summer of venue closures” as staff are forced into isolation at a high rate.

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid apologised for saying people should not “cower” from coronavirus in remarks that were branded insensitive by bereaved families and opposition MPs.

The Cabinet minister deleted the offending tweet on Sunday, conceding it “was a poor choice of word and I sincerely apologise”.

He made the original comment on Twitter on Saturday as he announced he had made a “full recovery” from a Covid-19 infection and said his “symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines”, of which he has received two doses.

“Please, if you haven’t yet, get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus,” he added.

Jo Goodman, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group, had said Mr Javid’s original comment was “deeply insensitive on a number of levels”.

“Not only are they hurtful to bereaved families, implying our loved ones were too cowardly to fight the virus, but they insult all those still doing their best to protect others from the devastation this horrific virus can bring,” she added.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Wembley (Mike Egerton/PA)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson at Wembley (Mike Egerton/PA)

Both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak had to enter 10 days of quarantine over a contact with Mr Javid.

The Prime Minister’s quarantine in his Chequers country residence is expected to finish at the end of Monday, as is the Chancellor’s.

A total of 29,173 coronavirus cases were reported by the Government on Sunday.

It was the fifth day in a row that the number of daily reported cases has decreased, with average daily cases down 15% week on week.

The last time cases fell for five days in a row was between February 5 and 9.

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