Business leaders have been told they “can’t have it both ways”, as the government faces criticism over its decision to delay the changing of self-isolation rules until 16 August.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News that scrapping the 10-day self-isolation policy for those who have received two vaccine doses and those aged under 18 from August rather than 19 July gives “a measure of protection”.
His comments came as some Conservative MPs and business leaders reacted furiously after Health Secretary Sajid Javid said children and fully vaccinated adults will have to follow current self-isolation rules until 16 August – six weeks beyond the government’s planned final lockdown easing stage.
This means they will have to stay at home for 10 days if they come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.
The Department for Health and Social Care said people who receive their second vaccine just before or just after the 16 August date should wait a further two weeks before becoming exempt from isolation which will allow the jab to take effect.
Mr Kwarteng admitted the plan “is not a perfect solution”, but said postponing the lifting of self-isolation rules for some individuals into the following month will “give a little bit more protection”.
“You can’t have it both ways. On the one hand we are saying that we want to reopen but we are giving a measure of precaution in terms of delaying… lifting the self-isolation restrictions,” he said.
“It is a balance. It is not a perfect solution, but on the one hand we are saying that we can reopen and the other hand we are saying that we want to give a little bit more protection in terms of the self-isolation rules.”
Mr Kwarteng went on to defend the government’s reopening plan as “perfectly reasonable”.
But former Conservative Party leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith has accused the Government of “splitting the message”.
He told The Telegraph that postponing changes to the self-isolation regime until next month meant “Freedom Day is delayed” and “makes a mockery” of the idea that 19 July represented the end of restrictions.
Responding to Mr Kwarteng’s comments, chief executive of UKHospitality Kate Nicholls said: “This is not an either or – we understand the need for caution and effective transmission control.
“What we are asking for is pragmatic adjustment to avoid disadvantaging young workers – test to release as per international travel will reduce disruption without reducing protection.”
Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy called for better sick pay measures for people who need to self-isolate.
“People shouldn’t be forced to choose between protecting their family and protecting the country,” she told Sky News.
Meanwhile, asked if the prediction that 5,000 people could be acquiring long COVID a day is fair, the business secretary admitted it is “not beyond the imagination”.
He also confirmed that he will continue to wear a mask on public transport, despite the legal requirement to do so being scrapped from July 19 – if the government’s four key tests to ease the remaining restrictions are met.
“Personally, I use the tube a lot in London and I would probably wear a mask in that context, on the tube, on public transport,” he said.
“That is a personal view, it is not something that I would mandate or necessarily dictate to other people.”
On Tuesday, Mr Javid also said he will continue to carry a face mask “for the foreseeable future” as the government faces an increasing backlash over plans to ditch mandatory wearing on public transport.
“If I’m in a crowded or enclosed space, I will wear a face mask. In fact I will wear one if I was next to someone or near someone that felt uncomfortable with others not wearing face masks.
“And that’s what I mean by personality responsibility,” he told Sky News.