U.K.’s Javid Gets Covid Days Before England Ends Virus Curbs

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U.K. Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive for Covid-19 on the cusp of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government lifting remaining virus restrictions for England.

In a video posted on his Twitter feed, Javid said he was feeling “a bit groggy” on Friday night and took a lateral flow test Saturday morning that gave a positive result. A PCR test later confirmed it.

Johnson and Javid met Friday as the reopening approached, said a person familiar with the matter. That could see the premier and any other aides who attended forced to spend Monday, which Johnson has dubbed “Freedom Day,” in self-isolation based on current health guidelines.

Javid, 51, who said he’s fully vaccinated and tweeted in March that he received the AstraZeneca shot, was isolating at home with his family. He said his symptoms were “very mild.”

So-called “breakthrough infections” have been experienced by some of the billions of people who’ve been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. In most cases, vaccines have prevented severe illness and death.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan was among the first to respond to Javid’s news, replying in a tweet, “pleased to hear the difference having both jabs can make,” in apparent reference to the health minister’s report of mild symptoms. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer also tweeted his support. Johnson has yet to comment on Javid’s announcement.

Javid’s infection may put a damper on Monday’s mood. Johnson has pushed toward the opening with Javid’s backing, even as new cases surge and the government swerves once more on its travel guidance.

International health experts have slammed Johnson’s plan to lift almost all of England’s pandemic restrictions.

Hundreds of scientists supported a letter to the U.K. journal the Lancet published July 7, warning that the strategy could allow vaccine-resistant variants to develop, and was “dangerous and premature.”

“We consider any strategy that tolerates high levels of infection to be both unethical and illogical,” the letter’s original authors wrote.

The U.K. reported 54,674 new Covid cases on Saturday, the highest daily level in six months, as the spread of the delta variant pushes infection rates near records for the entire pandemic. Hospitalizations rose to 3,964, the most since late March, but have been rising at a slower rate.

The success of the country’s vaccine drive, especially among older and more vulnerable citizens, has also limited fatalities from the latest wave. Some 41 deaths were reported Saturday, compared with more than 1,800 in a single day at the pandemic’s peak in January.

Despite the surging case levels, the government plans to lift most remaining Covid-19 restrictions on Monday. It foresees cases possibly topping 100,000 by next month as the contagious delta variant, first identified in India, dominates. More than two-thirds of adults have received both Covid shots, Javid announced on Wednesday, leaving younger people, who’ve been last in line for inoculation, particularly vulnerable to the delta variant.

‘Amber Plus’

Late Friday, the U.K. reimposed quarantine rules on travelers returning to England from France -- adding a new “Amber Plus” category to the current traffic-light-based system.

In doing so, the government cited the “persistent presence” in France of the beta variant, even though the virus rate in the U.K. is currently higher than in France. The beta variant, first identified in South Africa, is thought to be more vaccine-resistant than other strains.

Johnson’s aspirations have already been hampered by knock-on effects from the sharply rising cases. U.K. workers are expected to isolate after being contacted by the government’s coronavirus contract tracing app, and businesses from stores to car factories reported disruptions this week after more than half a million people were “pinged.” Now, Johnson could himself get an unwelcome mobile-phone alert.

Messaging also remains inconsistent, with British airlines and airports saying on Friday that passengers must continue to wear face masks after mandatory government requirements give way to a more voluntary regime.

The minister on Tuesday posted photographs of himself meeting residents and staff at a care home in Streatham, south London. the facility, Aashna Care, has a 100% vaccination rate among staff and residents, the BBC reported. Javid spoke in Parliament the same day, taking questions on health and social care.

Javid, a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, has been in the job for less than a month. He was named to the U.K. health post on June 26 after Matt Hancock resigned. Hancock quit after he was caught embracing a senior aide in his office, in breach of the social distancing guidelines he helped to create.

Johnson had a brush with death from a severe case of Covid-19 in April 2020, months before vaccines were available. He spent three nights in intensive care at a London hospital and credited the country’s National Health Service with saving his life. Hancock also caught Covid-19 during the first wave.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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