Three UK cabinet ministers have gone into isolation after being in close contact with the Australian deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, who later tested positive for Covid.
Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister and justice secretary, and Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, pulled out of events after their contact with Joyce when he visited London earlier this week.
Later, a spokesman for Michael Gove said the communities secretary is also self-isolating after coming into contact with Joyce.
Under the law, close contacts of positive Covid cases do not have to isolate as long as they get a PCR test and the result comes back negative. However, anyone who is a close contact of someone confirmed or suspected of being infected with the Omicron variant must take daily tests.
Joyce, who is fully vaccinated, has since left the UK and tested positive only once he was in Washington.
He said in a Facebook post on Thursday that he was experiencing mild symptoms, had been tested and was isolating, awaiting further advice.
Shapps had been due to visit a Hitachi Rail rolling stock assembly plant in County Durham on Thursday. He said in a tweet: “Have taken precaution of cancelling visit and have taken PCR test after being in contact with Australian Deputy PM this week – who’s tested positive for Covid.”
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Raab said: “He is getting tested and he is self-isolating while we wait to hear whether the Australian deputy prime minister has Omicron or not.”
In an interview on Sky News, Joyce said he did not know when he acquired Covid-19 – but that the UK was crowded with people preparing for Christmas and going shopping. “You wouldn’t think there’s a pandemic on in areas of the UK,” he said.
While in isolation Joyce said he planned to watch cricket, do some paperwork and read a book. He indicated it had not changed his ideas on the need to move on from the pandemic. “I’m still of the same view – you know, we can’t just shut the whole place down,” Joyce said. “The world’s got to move on. It’s not economically possible for any nation to go into permanent shutdown – you’ll go broke.”
Most cabinet ministers in the UK have had to isolate at several points during the pandemic, either because of catching Covid themselves or being identified as a close contact.
Coronavirus spread through parliament rapidly at the start of the pandemic, and two of the first Omicron variant cases discovered in the UK were tracked down to the region of Westminster.