The alerts, which were sent to some people who had tested positive for Covid recently, do not mention last week’s rule change by Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary. That cut isolation from 10 days to seven, with negative lateral flow results on days six and seven.
The text also fails to mention the rule change on December 14, which meant contacts of Covid cases who are fully vaccinated or under 18 can avoid isolation by testing daily for a week instead.
‘Last thing we need is confusing mixed messaging’
David Jones, a former Tory minister, said: “This seems a clear case of officials trying to undermine decisions made by democratically accountable ministers.
“The rule changes were made after full consideration of the relevant evidence. Officials now have a responsibility to implement those changes, not ignore them. They must get out of the ‘Whitehall knows best’ mentality.”
William Wragg, the Tory chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Select Committee, which oversees the work of the Civil Service, said: “The UK Health Security Agency does not govern the country and as such should follow the instructions given to it by ministers. The policy on test and release has been updated and should be communicated to the public properly.”
Andrew Bridgen, the Tory MP, added: “Rather than self-isolation for more people, the Government should cut self-isolation to five days, supported by a lateral flow test to get the country back to work.
“The biggest threat to the UK economy is enforced absenteeism due to self-isolation. It looks like an over-reaction that Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford would be proud of – they are moving in the opposite ways to ministerial guidance.”
Kate Nicholls, the chief executive of UK Hospitality, which represents the country’s bars, restaurants, hotels and nightclubs, added: “It is vital that advice provided through the app or by text messages is updated immediately to reflect the latest ministerial decision to replace self-isolation requirements with daily seven-day testing.
“This much-needed change by ministers was introduced to keep the economy moving and reduce high staff absentee rates – balancing the needs of the economy and people’s low-risk activities with the need to protect public health.
“The last thing we need is confusing mixed messaging undermining this pragmatic approach designed to keep essential services and the food supply chain moving.”
Lord Bilimoria, president of the CBI, told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme: “We have got to do everything we can to stop the disruption to our lives and to our livelihoods and to the economy in as safe a way as possible.
“We need people to isolate for as little time as possible.”
Calls to cut Covid self-isolation period further
On Tuesday, British scientists argued that the length of time needed to self-isolate could be cut further.
Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford, said that he would back a move to five days if there was science to support the move.
“That’s one way to deal with the quarantine issue,” he told BBC Radio 4. “My view is that natural flow tests are quite a good way of marking infectiousness and you could have sequential lateral flow tests.
“That is, in my view, a much better way to measure and quantitate whether we’re allowing people to go back into the community who are infectious.”
The United States has cut its isolation period to just five days, prompting calls for the UK to follow. But Chloe Smith, the minister for disabled people, health and work, said on Wednesday morning that “there are no current plans in England” to do this.
Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said that the Government should consider abandoning self-isolation for those catching coronavirus within months, to allow the country to begin living with the virus.
He told BBC Breakfast: “We’re going to have to let people who are positive go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold.
“I think the whole issue of how long are we going to be able to allow people to self-isolate if they’re positive is going to have to be discussed fairly soon, because I think this is a disease that’s not going away.
“So personally, I think it would be unlikely that we are going to do anything like that whilst we’re still coping with omicron, but once we’re past Easter, perhaps, then maybe we should start to look at scaling back, depending on, of course, what the disease is at that time.”