Boris Johnson’s dismal weekend took a turn for the worse on Sunday when he was forced to self-isolate after meeting a Conservative MP who later developed symptoms of Covid-19.
The prime minister had been trying to repair the political damage from his Downing Street operation falling apart when he was notified by NHS Test and Trace of the need to go into isolation.
Number 10 said Mr Johnson, who had been expected to make a big speech on the “green economy” on Wednesday, would follow the rules but would carry on working from Downing Street.
“The PM is well and does not have any symptoms of Covid-19,” a spokesman said. Mr Johnson had spent the weekend seeking to stabilise his administration after the resignation on Friday of Dominic Cummings, his chief adviser, and Lee Cain, his communications chief.
Mr Johnson, who suffered a serious bout of coronavirus in April, met a small group of MPs in Number 10 on Thursday morning — including Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield in Nottinghamshire.
Mr Anderson subsequently developed symptoms for Covid-19 and has now tested positive. Number 10 is a Covid-secure workplace and government officials said every step had been taken to minimise the risk of infection.
Mr Johnson acted on the advice of NHS Test and Trace, which because of factors such as the length of the meeting — which went on for approximately 35 minutes — he should self-isolate.
In spite of the restrictions, which coincide with England’s national lockdown, Mr Johnson’s spokesman said he would continue speaking to the country during his self-isolation period.
He is also expected to speak to the parliamentary authorities to discuss what options are available for him to take part remotely in some business in the House of Commons: he is due to take prime minister’s questions on Wednesday.
People who have contracted and recovered from Covid-19 develop antibodies that are believed to confer protection from the disease.
However, underlining how much still remains to be learnt about a virus that emerged less than a year ago, scientists are unsure how long this protection lasts and there have been a handful of documented instances of individuals who have caught the disease a second time.
In following the advice he has received from the Test and Trace service, Mr Johnson will have been conscious of needing to set an example of best practice.
However unlikely it is that he would succumb to a second bout of the disease, he must be seen to take no chances.