Boris Johnson is being forced to self-isolate after meeting a Conservative MP, Lee Anderson, who later tested positive for coronavirus. Johnson’s colleagues insist there was no breach of Covid rules. So how did it happen?
Should Johnson and Anderson have met, and not wearing masks?
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said on Monday that under Covid-secure workplace rules, masks are not always worn inside Downing Street, adding that “as prime minister you do meet people”. Johnson and Anderson were photographed, mask-less, standing about a metre from each other.
What do workplace rules usually set out?
We do not know the specific rules for inside No 10. In parliament, MPs and others who do attend in person are strongly encouraged to wear masks in communal areas – although not all do – but take them off inside the Commons chamber, and in their offices.
The more general government advice for Covid-secure offices states that where people do spend time less than 2 metres away, there should be an attempt to mitigate the risk, for example with screens, or ventilating the room. The windows shown in the photo behind Johnson and Anderson appear to be closed.
Aren’t people meant to work from home?
During the current temporary lockdown, yes, where possible. However, being prime minister is a role in which, as Hancock said, meeting people is inevitable. Parliament is sitting, although in a hybrid format, with some MPs appearing virtually. No 10 is arguably almost Johnson’s home anyway – he lives in the larger flat above 11 Downing Street.
Does anyone else have to self-isolate, and is everyone OK?
Brendan Clarke-Smith, the MP for Bassetlaw in the east Midlands, also confirmed he was in self-isolation.
He responded to Johnson’s Twitter video – in which the prime minister confirmed he had been told to isolate by NHS track and trace – by saying “in the words of Patrick Swayze … Ditto”. For those unfamiliar with the 1990 film Ghost, Swayze’s murdered character uses the word “ditto” as code to tell his girlfriend, Molly (played by Demi Moore), that he loves her. Whether Clarke-Smith’s reference was intended as a declaration of love to the prime minister is unclear.
Last Thursday he posted a selfie of himself with Johnson on his Facebook page, saying he’d had a meeting with “the boss”.
As Johnson has already had coronavirus, the expectation is that he will not face symptoms. His fiancee, Carrie Symonds, and their son, Wilfred, do not have to self-isolate, but Johnson is expected to try to stay away from them “as much as possible”.
In a brief Facebook post, Anderson said that on Friday he had lost his sense of taste, and his wife had a bad headache, and that a test on Saturday brought positive results for both of them the next day. Anderson said he felt well, but “my biggest concern is my wife, who is in the shielded group”.
How did Johnson find out about it?
While this has not been officially confirmed, it appeared to be because both Anderson and Johnson were using the test and trace app on their phones, which tells you if a recent close contact has tested positive. In a video message posted to Twitter, Johnson said: “Hi folks, the good news is that NHS test and trace is working ever more efficiently, but the bad news is that they’ve pinged me and I’ve got to self isolate because someone I was in contact with a few days ago has developed Covid.”
How long does Johnson have to self-isolate?
The rules stipulate this must last 14 days from the last time you were in contact with the infected person. The meeting with Anderson took place on Thursday morning, meaning the PM has 10 more days to go.
Have any other government figures had to self-isolate?
Earlier this month a staffer in the private office of Alok Sharma tested positive for coronavirus, just before the business secretary went on a visit to South Korea. However, Sharma was not asked to self-isolate. His officials said that while the staffer had been in a meeting with Sharma a few days before the positive text, the pair were not in close contact.
Is the 14-day self-isolation period under review?
The two-week period was set as the last likely day for people to develop symptoms if they had become infected. But since then, the provision of testing has expanded, and newer, near-instant tests are emerging. With figures showing only a small proportion people fully stick to the 14 days of isolation, it is expected the time could be cut, possibly to 10 days.