Good morning. Ministers are meeting today to consider extending the arrangements that will allow some workers to use daily testing as an alternative to isolation if they are pinged by the NHS Covid app, or contacted by test and trace, because they have been in contact with someone testing positive. But quite what the news arrangements will be is not yet clear and this morning a rail union boss described the situation as “utter confusion and chaos”.
To recap, at the end of last week the government announced two separate schemes to address this problem: workplace testing for the food supply industry, with about 10,000 people covered by the scheme; and possible exemptions for workers in 16 key industries, but only for named members of staff (the most vital ones) subject to their employees agreeing these names with the relevant government department.
On Saturday the government announced that workplace testing would be extended, with 200 testing sites opening so that frontline emergency service staff – some police, firefighters, Border Force staff and transport workers – would be able to use testing as an alternative to isolation.
But this morning Mick Lynch, the general secretary of the RMT rail union, said that it was “completely unclear” what was happening. He told the Today programme:
We’ve been trying to find out over the weekend exactly what’s happening. At the end of last week we had this very restricted exemption programme put to us where individuals had to be named. Then over the weekend we had this breaking news that it was going to be a more generalised exemption process.
I’ve tried to contact the employers to find out what they know that they know. They know as much as I do, which is very little. As far as they’re concerned, the only update they’ve had from the Department for Transport and the authorities is that it’s the limited exemption that we heard about for a limited number of signallers and people in control rooms last week.
So it’s utter confusion and chaos. Nobody knows what’s going on, and the authorities are simply not telling the employers, the trade unions, the workers, or the authorities what they should be doing.
No doubt things will get a little clearer as the day goes on.
Lynch also expressed concern that rail workers who did use testing as an alternative to isolation could be posing a risk to colleagues.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Sir Keir Starmer holds his regular LBC Call Keir phone-in.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
1pm: Sir Jeremy Farrar, head of the Wellcome foundation and a member of Sage, speaks at the Institute for Government about his new book about the pandemic.
2pm: The Northern Ireland executive meets to consider further lockdown easing.
Also, at some point today the UK government’s Covid operations cabinet subcommittee is meeting to discuss opening more emergency testing sites for workplaces.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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