UK health minister gets COVID-19 ahead of 'freedom day'

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Jul 18 2021 08:14 AM

LONDON - British Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Saturday he had tested positive for COVID-19 and was self-isolating -- just as his government prepared to jettison most pandemic restrictions in England.

Under his government's rules, Javid is now required to self-isolate for 10 days, after he tweeted that a PCR test had confirmed his initial lateral flow test.

Any of his "close contacts" -- potentially including others in the government -- would have to self-isolate too if they receive instructions from the state-run National Health Service (NHS).

Javid had a "lengthy" meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Friday, according to the Sunday Times.

Johnson nearly died of COVID-19 last year. Downing Street declined to comment on whether the prime minister or other members of the cabinet now also face isolation.

Javid appeared alongside ministers in parliament last week, and one government source told The Telegraph newspaper: "I don't see how half the cabinet doesn't end up in isolation by the end of the week."

Javid has only been in the job since June 26, when former health secretary Matt Hancock resigned following revelations he had broken coronavirus restrictions during an affair with a close aide.

Javid stressed he has received both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and his symptoms were "very mild". He said any member of the public feeling symptoms should get a test too.

"If everyone plays their part, you're not only protecting yourself and your loved ones, but you're also safeguarding the NHS and helping to preserve our way of life," the minister said.

However, with coronavirus cases again surging, many scientists say the government is endangering the NHS with its plan on Monday to scrap most legal pandemic requirements in England.

For the first time since January, Britain's daily COVID-19 caseload now exceeds 50,000, and Javid has warned the figure could double from that in the coming weeks. 

But the government insists that with two-thirds of the adult population now fully vaccinated, the risk can be managed, and Monday has been dubbed "freedom day" by many UK media.

Munira Wilson, health spokeswoman for the opposition Liberal Democrats, said Javid's test result "shows no one is safe from this deadly virus".

Urging the government "to rethink its reckless plans for Monday", she said: "By easing all restrictions with cases surging, they are experimenting with people's lives."

The surge in infections sweeping Britain led to more than 530,000 people being instructed to self-isolate by a government-run app in the week to July 7, according to latest data.

Some companies such as carmaker Nissan have been losing staff en masse after they were pinged by the app -- in a brewing crisis described by UK newspapers as a "pingdemic".

Staff shortages caused by the isolation rules disrupted the London Underground network on Saturday, with one line suspended entirely.

jit/tgb

© Agence France-Presse

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