Why is BoJo isolating?

Jonathan Buckmaster/Pool Photo via AP

Today is “Freedom Day” in England, with nearly all pandemic lockdowns and restrictions being lifted. This is happening despite an ongoing resurgence of the Delta variant, with accompanying increases in new cases and hospitalizations. But the surge has impacted one very high-profile figure unexpectedly. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was informed by the country’s contact tracing app that he had come into contact with a person who tested positive. That person was Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who had an in-person meeting with BoJo on Friday and subsequently tested positive on Saturday. Johnson owned up to the notification and after appearing to vacillate for a few hours in terms of how to handle the news, he announced that he would go into a ten-day isolation and monitor his condition. (NBC News)

The prime minister and Treasury chief Rishi Sunak were both alerted overnight by England’s test-and-trace phone app. Johnson had a meeting on Friday with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who tested positive for Covid-19 on Saturday. Javid, who has been fully vaccinated, said he was experiencing mild symptoms.

Johnson’s office initially said the prime minister and Sunak would instead take a daily coronavirus test as part of an alternative system being piloted in some workplaces, including government offices.

Less than three hours later after an outcry over apparent special treatment for politicians, Downing St. said Johnson would self-isolate at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence. It said Sunak also would self-isolate.

Let’s just jump right into the title question. Why did Boris Johnson decide to put himself back in lockdown for ten days? Yes, I understand the political optics of this, at least at first glance. You don’t want to be the guy who winds up looking like Andrew Cuomo and is making special exceptions to the rules for yourself and your family. I get that part of it.

But at the same time, England has entered into a new phase of reopening and the rules are changing. Let’s keep in mind that Johnson survived a severe bout of COVID himself and then went on to be fully vaccinated. Even leaders at the CDC have admitted that if you fall into that category you are basically Superman. You can walk through the blizzard of the novel coronavirus and swat it away like King Kong taking down fighter planes.

Wouldn’t Johnson prefer to “follow the science” which says that he should be just fine? He could kick back for a day and make a show of washing his hands extra vigorously before getting back to work. It seems like that would send the message that the Brits are well on the path to beating this thing.

Seeing a prominent leader go scurrying back to his “country residence” for more than a week after a brief interaction with someone who tested positive sends the opposite message, doesn’t it? I understand that there can be an impulse to err on the side of caution, but if anyone should be medically fit to lead the charge back to normality at this point, it should be Boris Johnson.

Or perhaps he’s playing this smarter than I was imagining. Just this week, more than 1,000 scientists signed a letter to BoJo warning him that Freedom Day had come too soon and he could be exposing the country to another surge. Even worse, they suggest that this episode could spawn newer, more resistant variants. The press has gotten ahold of that letter and run with it, leading to plenty of criticism. I suppose it’s possible that BoJo is just going to take a conservative approach just in case things really go pear-shaped. We should know in the next week or so which side was right.