Sadiq Khan has urged Boris Johnson to quickly change the rules so that fully vaccinated people do not have to self-isolate if they come into contact with a Covid case. The push, which is also backed by business leaders, comes amid shortages of staff in sectors such as hospitality, transport, and the food supply chain.
Rail services have been cut back and some pubs and restaurants closed as vast numbers of people found themselves being ‘pinged’ by the NHS contact-tracing app and told to self-isolate. Bin collections and the police are among other services said to have been affected by absences. In the capital, some lines on the London Underground have faced problems because of the so-called pingdemic.
The government has said workers in some sectors, such as food supply and the power networks, will soon be exempt from the requirement if they are double-jabbed – following a similar move for health and social care workers. And a more general relaxation of the requirement is due to come in from 16 August.
But in a joint letter to the prime minister, Mr Khan, along with UK Hospitality, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and London’s Federation of Small Businesses, said the date should be brought forward.
“The summer months are crucial for many businesses’ recovery, and their ability to recover must not be put in jeopardy,” the letter said. “We are therefore calling on you to ensure that the necessary testing is in place to enable people who have been double-vaccinated for longer than two weeks, and [are] pinged by the NHS Covid app, to immediately return to work following a negative PCR test, rather than having to self-isolate.”
The signatories say this approach would help keep faith in the NHS Covid-19 app. Polling suggests large numbers of people are deleting the app or turning off contact-tracing following the surge in pings. As many as 608,000 contact-tracing alerts were sent in England in the week between 8 and 15 July, according to the most recent available figures – a record high number.
Defenders of the app say it is merely contact-tracing a lot of people because a lot of people have Covid and are mixing in public. But critics say it is imprecise and does not take into account many of the risk factors, like whether a person is outside or in a well-ventilated area.
Friday’s figures showed 36,389 new Covid infections, a smaller increase than on previous days.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, announced on Saturday that he had made a full recovery from Covid. “Symptoms were very mild, thanks to amazing vaccines,” he said in a message posted on social media. “Please – if you haven’t yet – get your jab, as we learn to live with, rather than cower from, this virus.”
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