PM branded ‘superspreader of confusion’ as he says sorry to businesses for ‘pingdemic’ chaos

Boris Johnson has apologised to businesses impacted by a rising number of staff members having to self-isolate due to coming into close contact with a positive coronavirus case.

Speaking at the last PMQs before the summer recess, the prime minister – himself isolating at Chequers after coming into contact with COVID-positive Health Secretary Sajid Javid last week – said “everybody understands the inconvenience of being pinged”.

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Image: The PM is self-isolating after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid

At what was also the first PMQs since England’s coronavirus restrictions eased on Monday, Mr Johnson added: “I apologise to everybody in business up and down the land in all kinds of services – public sector or otherwise – who are experiencing inconvenience.

“We will be switching, as the House knows, to a system based on contact testing rather than contact isolation – but, until then, I just must remind everybody that isolation is a vital tool of our defence against the disease.”

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His comments came as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer pressed the prime minister on whether someone who is pinged by the NHS COVID-19 app should isolate following mixed messages from government ministers.

“When it comes to creating confusion, the prime minister is a super-spreader,” Sir Keir noted.

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He added: “With half a million people self-isolating, I think we were all a bit surprised that the prime minister, the chancellor and the cabinet office minister were all randomly chosen for a get-out-of-isolation-free card.”

After it was confirmed Mr Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak had been identified as close contacts of Mr Javid, Downing Street announced the pair would take part in a pilot scheme that sees isolation replaced by daily testing.

But there was a swift U-turn following a backlash, with Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak now isolating.

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Sir Keir also highlighted confusion over the isolation exemption list – yet to be published by the government – and said the government is “all over the place” on the issue.

He added that the PM’s governing three-word slogan should be “on the hoof”.

Responding, the prime minister described the Labour leader’s questions on the self-isolation policy as “feeble stuff”.

“He wants to keep this country, as far as I understand his position, in lockdown,” Mr Johnson said, with Labour having called for some of the rules dropped on Monday – including face masks on public transport – to remain.

The prime minister added that isolation “is a very important part of our armoury against COVID”.

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The Labour leader then asked Mr Johnson about apparent WhatsApp messages revealed by his former chief aide Dominic Cummings from October last year, when the prime minister reportedly dismissed the need for an autumn lockdown as those dying from COVID were “essentially all over 80”.

Asked if he would “now apologise for using those words”, Mr Johnson did not deny the allegations.

He instead replied: “Nothing I can say from this virtual despatch box or nothing I can do, can make up for the loss and suffering people have endured in this pandemic.”

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The prime minister was also quizzed on his decision to mandate proof of double vaccination status to enter nightclubs and potentially other crowded events from the end of September.

Sir Keir asked: “Why is it okay to go to a nightclub for the next six weeks without proof of a vaccine or test, and then from September it will only be okay to get into a nightclub if you’ve got a vaccine ID card?”

But the PM accused Sir Keir of trying to “score cheap political points” and noted: “Everybody can see we have to wait until the end of September, by which time it is only fair to the younger generation, when they will all have got the two jabs, before we consider something like asking people to be doubled jabbed before they can go into a nightclub.

“That’s blindingly obvious to everyone, it’s common sense.”