Downing Street adds to the pile of pandemic U-turns

Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street
Prime Minister Boris Johnson departs 10 Downing Street

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak immediately said they would not self-isolate despite being pinged, but hours later it was announced they would follow Government guidance


Downing Street has performed a swift U-turn following a backlash over news that Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak would not have to self-isolate, despite being pinged by NHS Track and Trace.

Just three hours later it was announced that both men would be self-isolating as per Government guidance.

Throughout the pandemic, Government advice has shifted on a range of issues, including testing and infection prevention guidance, resulting in anger and confusion.

Here is a summary of some of the different twists and turns Government advice for England has taken:

March 12 2020: Community testing abandoned

At the start of the pandemic the NHS said a “significant expansion” of testing was being undertaken to “ramp up” facilities so that 10,000 coronavirus tests could be performed a day.

But a day later England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, said only those at hospitals would be formally tested.

Essential workers and their households became eligible for testing at the end of April, with this expanded to all people aged five and over with symptoms, in the middle of May.

July 14: Face coverings must be worn in shops

About four months after England went into its first lockdown, face coverings became mandatory for shop customers.

A shop stylist adjusts a face mask on a mannequin in a window display at fashion
A shop stylist adjusts a face mask on a mannequin in a window display at fashion

The Government was initially reluctant to enforce the wearing of face coverings, with experts warning they could give a false sense of

security and improper use could increase the spread of infection.

They were made mandatory for travelling on public transport in England in June, but it was not until July, after weeks of mixed messaging, that they were required inside shops.

August 25: Face masks required in schools

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson performed a U-turn when he announced face coverings would be required for secondary pupils and staff in communal areas of schools in local lockdown areas of England. This was despite him previously insisting they were not required.

The new advice came a day after a Number 10 spokesman said there were no plans to review the guidance.

September 22: Return-to-work advice scrapped

Last year’s plans to get employees back into their workplace in a bid to boost the struggling economy were scrapped, with Mr Johnson telling office staff to work from home if they could.

The Prime Minister had led calls for staff to return to work in response to concerns that cafes and other businesses which rely on demand from commuters and office workers were facing ruin.

But a rise in coronavirus cases forced him to change the advice.

October 31: Second lockdown announced

A month-long second national lockdown for England was announced by Mr Johnson, after a system of tiered restrictions in England failed to control rising case numbers.

It had been hoped the tiers would tackle a second wave of coronavirus, while avoiding the economic damage of a full circuit-break.

December 14: Local restrictions changed early

Two days before a planned review of the coronavirus tier system on December 16, former health secretary Matt Hancock placed London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire into the highest tier of restrictions.

The announcement moved almost 10.8 million people into Tier 3.

December 19: Christmas cancelled for millions

Less than a week before Christmas Day, Mr Johnson announced that south-east England would move into a new Tier 4, scuppering the festive plans of millions.

A man wearing a face mask passes Christmas lights outside a shop in central London
A man wearing a face mask passes Christmas lights outside a shop in central London

The affected areas had to spend two weeks, covering the Christmas and New Year period, following rules similar to the November lockdown.

The Christmas bubble policy previously announced by the Government was curtailed and was applied only to Christmas Day, for people living elsewhere in the country.

July 18 2021: Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak not forced to self-isolate

Number 10 announced the Prime Minister and Chancellor had been contacted by NHS Test and Trace, but would not be isolating as they were taking part in a pilot workplace contact-tracing scheme.

The news caused a furious backlash online from members of the Labour Party, including shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth and deputy leader Angela Rayner, who accused the Government of being “above the law”.

But in a dramatic turnaround just three hours later, Downing Street said the men would be self-isolating after all, rather than taking part in the daily contact testing pilot.