Labour has called on ministers to publish a “clear, unambiguous list” of critical workers who will be eligible to avoid self-isolation if they are fully vaccinated.
Downing Street has pledged to produce “guidance” on how sectors can apply for exemption status but said it will stop short of giving a list of industry jobs that will be permitted to skip quarantine measures.
A spokesman for the Prime Minister said the information will “set out in more detail how the process will work, how to apply and examples of the sectors where exemptions could apply”.
It comes amid warnings of staffing shortages as NHS figures showed a record 618,903 alerts were sent to users of the coronavirus app in England and Wales in the week to July 14, telling them they had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for coronavirus.
Those alerted by the app are advised to stay away from others for as long as 10 days.
This week Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced railway signal workers and flight traffic control personnel will be the first to be offered self-isolation get-out cards.
The Government initially said it would not produce a list of jobs that would follow but Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng suggested in interviews on Thursday that the thinking had changed, telling the BBC: “We will be publishing today the sectors that will be affected.”
Shadow business minister Seema Malhotra accused ministers of being in a “tailspin” over the proposals for critical employees.
“It makes sense to exempt certain fully vaccinated professionals, such as those working in emergency services, from self-isolation rules through a targeted test to release scheme to keep our country running,” she said.
“But the Government has made a mess of its own policy and is undermining the effectiveness of the rule change.
“If ministers don’t know or can’t decide what the plan is, how can employers possibly be expected to understand what’s required of them?
“The Government must today come forward with a clear, unambiguous list of critical workers and a workable plan for how exemptions will be applied.”
RMT general secretary Mick Lynch said a number of railway signal locations on Britain’s mainline are at “critical levels” of staffing due to the so-called “pingdemic”, a development which could threaten services.
Signallers wanting to exercise their quarantine exemption will have to sign up for daily testing and will need to show a letter sent from the Department for Transport via their company listing them as a named individual, he told told BBC Radio 4’s World At One.
The union chief called for “robust risk assessments and mitigations to be put in place” to protect those in the workplace who will have to work alongside colleagues who are coming to man the signals despite having been notified by NHS Test and Trace that they are at risk of catching Covid.
Asked whether some workers might be reluctant to work alongside those who had otherwise been told to self-isolate, Mr Lynch said: “That might be the reaction of any reasonable person.”
He added: “How do you deal with a person sitting round a desk or working next to you on a control panel in a stressful job who should actually be at home according to the Government guidance, isolating even from their family, but are allowed to come and work next to you for 12 hours on a shift?”
“That’s got to be controlled and we need mitigations.”
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said ministers should allow all those double-jabbed and who had tested positive for coronavirus in the past nine months to be free of quarantine rules immediately, rather than wait for the measure to lift on August 16.
He cited that two-thirds of adults in the UK have been fully vaccinated and the Office for National Statistics’ antibody study found “40-50%” of unvaccinated people are showing signs of having had the virus and so have a “degree of immunity” to back up his call.
Prof Hunter told the World At One: “Given the damage this policy is doing, I can’t see any public health reason why we shouldn’t actually stop requiring quarantining of casual contacts.
“If you haven’t been vaccinated and you haven’t had a double vaccine, then the risks are higher and I can see some value in continuing with (self-isolating), but certainly not if you’ve been double vaccinated or have had a natural infection in the last six or nine months.”
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