More jobs could be made exempt from isolation as ministers meet over ‘pingdemic’ concerns

Senior ministers are set to discuss extending the rollout of daily COVD testing sites 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 later to discuss if the number of jobs eligible for the testing regime should be widened.

Their decisions will depend on the demand registered with Whitehall departments and the ministers’ views of what roles are currently critical, with refuse collectors expected to receive assistance.

The hospitality industry is not expected to be covered.

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COVID-19: Exemptions under fire

The large number of people being pinged as close contacts by the NHS COVID-19 app has been fuelled by the high numbers of coronavirus infections since the Delta variant thrived and restrictions were eased.

While the number of new cases of COVID 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 19 July.

This is due to the delay between people becoming infected and receiving tests.

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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 16 August.

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

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

Two hour-long queues to show COVID documentation before being allowed airside were reported at Heathrow on Saturday, while there were complaints of a lack of staff at Stansted Airport causing “chaotic scenes”.

“I know Border Force are one of the frontline services that will be able to access more of this test and release,” he said.

“And I think at Heathrow yesterday we had a technical issue with the e-gates where they went down for 90 minutes or so. That caused a problem and I’m very sorry about that, and I’m sorry for the people that were inconvenienced.

“Hopefully Border Force will be relieved of some of the aspects of the pingdemic.”

He also acknowledged the “challenge” across policing in a Times Radio interview, as Metropolitan Police Federation chairman 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.

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Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid has 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.

Both Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak had to enter 10 days of quarantine over a contact with Mr Javid. They are expected to end quarantine by the end of Monday.

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

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