Decisions on key-worker isolation exemption to be made on case by case basis

Decisions on whether key workers can avoid isolation will be made on a case by case basis, amid uncertainty over who will qualify for the scheme.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson appears on a screen from Chequers, the country house of the serving UK Prime Minister, where he is self-isolating, during a media briefing in Downing Street, London (PA/Alberto Pezzali)

The first approvals for staff in critical jobs to continue going to work despite being the close contact of a Covid case have already been granted, Downing Street said on Tuesday, but a list outlining exactly which employers and employees may qualify is not expected to be published.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman instead said that they wanted to “make sure critical services are able to function”.

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined the plans for a “small number” of fully vaccinated critical workers to be able to avoid quarantine on Monday, after widespread criticism from businesses across the country over staff shortages.

Number 10 said the number of exemptions was not expected to reach the high tens of thousands but was unable to say how many people will be approved for the loosened rules ahead of the full relaxation for all double-jabbed members of the public from August 16.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “The first exemptions I understand have already been given in some critical sectors, that work is going on given the urgency. That’s in both wider sectors and the NHS as well.”

He said employers should contact the suitable Government department to request exemptions.

“It’s not a blanket exemption and my understanding is we’re not going to be producing a list covering individual sectors, these business-critical areas will be able to apply for exemptions to their host departments,” the spokesman said.

Pushed further on whether supermarket workers would qualify, the spokesman said: "We’re not seeking to draw lines specifically around who or who is not exempt.

“What’s important is to make sure critical services are able to function and get that balance right between requiring people to isolate… but also making sure critical services can function.”

The British Retail Consortium called for clarity on who would be exempt and said retail workers and suppliers should be included for the “vital role” they have played in the pandemic.

Chief executive Helen Dickinson said: “While it is good that Government recognises the problems that are being created by an overzealous track and trace system, it remains unclear who will be covered under the new list of critical workers.

“With community cases soaring, the number of healthy retail staff having to self-isolate is rising fast, threatening to disrupt retail operations, and potentially close shops or distribution centres.”

The Prime Minister said self-isolation is “one of the few shots we have got left in our locker”, on Monday, the day he scrapped most remaining legal restrictions in England.

He suggested it would cover some in hospitals and care homes, or working in the supply of food, electricity and medicines, and transport, defence and borders.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said the change would cover the police, air traffic controllers and train signallers, and others in “circumstances where there would be a serious risk of harm to public welfare if people in critical roles are unable to go to their workplace”.

But neither went further in setting out who it would apply to and a subsequent Government statement said departments will be writing to employers to explain their next steps.