Isolation rules for double-vaccinated Britons may not be lifted on 16 August, minister warns

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The pledge to lift isolation rules for double-vaccinated people who are close contacts of a Covid case on 16 August may not go ahead, a minister has warned.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said no final decision would be taken until a week before that date – adding he was keeping his “fingers crossed”.

The 16 August timetable had already been attacked as an unnecessary delay, coming 5 weeks after all other Covid rules were lifted and blamed for the “pingdemic” of mass isolation of workers.

But, asked if it would “definitely go ahead”, Mr Kwarteng said: “We always review the information a week before and then we make the decision.”

He told Sky News: “I think a week before 16 August, we will be able to make a decision as to whether the restriction will be lifted – later adding it was a case of “fingers crossed”.

Mr Kwarteng also performed a U-turn over the promised list of critical workers who will be exempt from the isolation rules before 16 August – amid criticism of a delay.

No 10 provoked anger by saying firms would have to apply to be included, but the business secretary – after first refusing to give a date for an announcement – said it would come today.

He also said a list of qualifying jobs would be published by the government, instead of departments considering whether companies were eligible.

But, he told BBC Breakfast: “The list, I think, will be quite narrow, it will be very narrow, simply because we don’t want to get into a huge debate about who is exempt.”

Mr Kwarteng also said he is “very concerned” about shortages on supermarket shelves – because of absent workers – saying: “Clearly, in some places that is happening.”

And he plunged the rescue plan for social care into further confusion, by suggesting it would be wrong to hike national insurance to fund it.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak are close to an agreement that is expected to hike the tax by 1 per cent – but the Conservative manifesto promised not to increase any of the major taxes.

But Mr Kwarteng appeared to blow a hole in the idea, saying: “That’s what it says on the manifesto. I don’t see how we could increase national insurance.”

The increase would have been announced this week, but for the chaos at the heart of the government that forced both the prime minister and his chancellor into isolation.

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