A taxpayers’ fortune was handed to celebs to send the test and trace message viral, the Sunday Mirror can reveal.
As the much-criticised Covid scheme failed to hit targets, reality TV stars pocketed thousands to plug the message to their followers.
Yet some posted pictures in which THEY appeared to flout social distancing rules.
Love Island stars Chris Hughes, Shaughna Phillips and Josh Denzel were paid for telling Instagram followers testing is “free, quick and vital to stop the spread”.
Downing Street came under fire for blowing money while failing to fix the service.
No 10 refused to say how much was spent on ads involving dozens of “influencers” and bloggers.
A social media expert said the Love Island stars would usually command £5,000 to £10,000 for an ad post.
The campaign – signed off by the Cabinet Office – saw dozens of influencers with much smaller followings get £150 to £200.
In one brief, Instagrammers were told to heap praise on the NHS but warned: “Don’t criticise the Government or its guidance.”
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran said: “Rather than spending taxpayers’ money on publicity stunts, ministers should be making sure the test and trace system actually works.
“The fact that they are paying for reality stars to post on social media to try to hide their failures is beyond ridiculous.”
Chris, 27, told his 2.1 million followers on August 14 how “getting tested for coronavirus is the best way for us all to get back to doing the things we love”.
It drew 23,000 “likes”.
He posted a picture of himself in the pub with a group of friends before Covid-19, writing: “I miss times like these! Getting tested is the best way for us all to get back to doing the things we love.
“We all play a crucial part in helping normalise this behaviour.
“I was worried I might have mild symptoms so I tested to be sure. It was so, so simple!”
But just days later, he uploaded a snap in Mykonos, Greece, with his arms around snooker star Judd Trump, 31, and celeb chef Salt Bae, 37.
The isle has seen a surge of virus cases as officials struggle to get locals to use masks and stay 1.5 metres apart.
Hughes, ex-boyfriend of Little Mix singer Jesy Nelson, was also pictured earlier this month on a yacht in Ibiza with Love Island pal Anton Danyluk.
One fan wrote: “Do you not think it’s a bit hypocritical saying this, as you’ve just been to Ibiza with no social distancing?”
Shaughna, 26, posted the advert to her 1.5 million followers on August 17.
The former council worker told fans: “Guys I want to remind you about the importance of coronavirus testing and that it’s totally free, quick and is vital to stop the spread of coronavirus.”
But her Instagram account shows a group photo on July 24 during a night out at Olivia’s La Cala restaurant, near Marbella.
Spanish rules called for a 1.5 metre distance between people and masks to be worn at all times in Andalusian restaurants, except when eating, smoking or drinking.
Representatives for Chris and Shaughna would not comment.
Meanwhile Josh, 29, told his 1.2 million followers to get tested to “get back to the good times” – tagging his location “staying at home”.
But in April he was seen exercising in a London park, appearing to breach a two-metre rule in force.
Josh, currently with pals in Ibiza, did not respond to requests for comment.
None of the Love Islanders would reveal how much they were paid.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “Z-list celebrities should not be paid to push messages which plenty of people have been doing free of charge.
“If these influencers want to help with the Covid campaign, they should promote the message for free.”
The celebs also face an Advertising Standards Agency probe on possible rule-breaking. Paid-for social media ads should be marked #ad.
None of the Love Island stars’ posts were disclosed as ads until the Mirror raised the issue.
An ASA spokesman said: “We are currently assessing whether Instagram posts by Shaughna Phillips, Chris Hughes and Josh Denzel promoting coronavirus testing programme have breached our rules on ad disclosure.”
Beauty and parent bloggers were approached to promote test and trace through a third party app called Takumi.
They were given ideas on pictures and wording.
One example suggested writing a “to do” list with “getting a coronavirus test” on it.
A Government spokesman said last night: “As a responsible government, we will use every means to keep the public informed and raise awareness of NHS Test and Trace.
“Our use of social media influencers has meant over seven million people have been reached.
“This is just one part of a wider campaign utilising TV, radio, social, print and other ads to ensure the public has the information it needs.
“All costs will be published as part of the regular transparency reports on gov.uk.”