UK employers should pay wages of those asked to isolate by COVID-19 trace system: minister

FILE PHOTO: A woman cycles through the financial district in London, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), London, Britain, May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

LONDON (Reuters) – British employers should pay the wages of anyone told to stay at home by England’s COVID-19 test and trace system, British health minister Matt Hancock said on Thursday.

The service is aimed at allowing the loosening of lockdown measures for most of the population. From Thursday, contacts of those who test positive will be instructed to isolate for 14 days, even if they have no symptoms.

Asked during an interview on Sky News if employers were being asked to step in and pay people’s wages while they isolate, Hancock said: “Yes.”

“If you are instructed by the NHS, for public health reasons, to stay at home then that is the equivalent in employment law to being ill and it is very important that employers are flexible about this,” he said.

Hancock also said an accompanying tracing app, which is being trialled on the Isle of Wight and is key to finding anonymous contacts, is ready but is not being brought in yet.

The tracing service, which will have a task-force of 40,000 specialists to test those with symptoms and identify their contacts, will initially rely on good will but the government said sanctions could be imposed if people did not comply.

“We are confident the vast majority of people will participate,” Hancock told BBC News.

Britain abandoned test and trace in March when the virus started spreading exponentially and there was insufficient capacity to test more than a fraction of those with symptoms.

The government says there is now enough capacity for all who needed one to be tested and it is aiming to get test results back within 24 hours.

Reporting by Kylie MacLellan, editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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