Johnson’s U.K. Pandemic Reopening Is Undermined by Key U-Turns

The end of pandemic restrictions in England was meant to be a moment of celebration for Boris Johnson. Instead, it’s been overshadowed by U-turns and missteps that threaten to undermine his government’s credibility just as Covid-19 infections soar across the country.

The latest backtracking came Tuesday after Business Minister Paul Scully told Times Radio that people could choose whether to self-isolate if “pinged” by the National Health Service’s contact-tracing mobile app -- contradicting Johnson’s own comments to the public. Downing Street was forced to correct Scully, telling the Press Association it is “crucial” that people still isolate.

U.K. Says ‘Crucial’ to Self-Isolate When Contacted by NHS App

The controversy comes days after Johnson and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak were accused of double standards after they initially planned to use a pilot program to avoid self-isolating, after their contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid who said he tested positive for the virus.

Amid a widespread backlash on social media, both then said they would self-isolate for 10 days -- as the rest of the population would be expected to do.

The U-turns and mixed-messaging have sowed confusion at a sensitive time, with the government lifting almost all pandemic rules across England on Monday, including reopening nightclubs for the first time in 16 months.

In another sudden reversal, Johnson said Monday that nightclubs -- and potentially other crowded indoor venues -- would need to check vaccine certificates to grant entry by the end of September. It follows weeks of ministers saying there were no plans to introduce the requirement, and triggered an angry response from members of Johnson’s Conservative Party.

Across the country, infections are rising rapidly, and more than 1.7 million people are estimated to be in quarantine at home, leading to a shortage of workers across supply chains, manufacturing and hospitality. The government was forced to relax isolation rules for different sectors twice this week.

A fresh row over mask-wearing also had echoes of the confusion early in the pandemic, when ministers resisted recommending their use before making them mandatory in crowded places and on public transport. This time, the government removed laws requiring their use -- while still saying there’s an “expectation” that people carry on wearing them.

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