Sajid Javid announces the isolation period will be cut to five days
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People in England who contract Covid will now only have to isolate for five full days rather than seven. The change will speed up the return to work for the hundreds and thousands currently in quarantine after testing positive.
Under the changes, which were first unveiled last week, people can leave quarantine after five full days, so long as they test negative on days five and six.
Those who do not receive two negative results on consecutive days are still required to isolate for up to 10 days.
Ministers are also planning on scrapping the Plan B measures currently in place from January 26 after fears of the NHS being overwhelmed by the Omicron variant failed to materialise.
Infections and hospitalisations are still much lower than they were in January 2021 when the country was plunged into the third national lockdown due to the Alfa variant first detected in Kent.
The UK Health and Security Agency (UKHSA) originally urged against reducing the isolation period to five days despite a similar policy having been adopted by the US and other countries around the world.
Scientists incorrectly argued that the US isolation period started later than Britain’s and therefore their five isolation period could not be compared to the UK’s.
After admitting they misunderstood the guidance from Washington, they swiftly changed their advice.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Following a robust review of the evidence, we have reduced the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England.
“This is a balanced and proportionate approach to restore extra freedoms and reduce the pressure on essential public services over the winter.
“It is crucial people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to ensure you are not infectious.”
The Government said research showed that between 20 percent and 30 percent of people are still infectious by day six, but the percentage of those released while infectious falls to around seven percent if people have two consecutive negative tests and then leave isolation from day six.
Dr Mike Tildesley, from the University of Warwick, warned that the changes would lead to an “increased risk” of infection spread but that it would help to reduce staff absences in essential services such as the NHS.
The member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M) told BBC Breakfast: “It is a big change, we do need to remember that from an epidemiological perspective any relaxation in testing like that is going to have an increased risk attached to it but of course, I totally understand it’s a practical thing.
“We’re seeing an awful lot of absences, and it’s particularly concerning in healthcare at the moment actually, so if we can reduce the isolation period then that will allow more people to get back to work.
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“Of course, important to remember that is done with two negative tests – so you can’t come out of isolation until the sixth day with a second negative test.
“And if you don’t get a negative test, you have to stay in isolation potentially even until day 10 so hopefully that mitigates some of the risk.”
Yesterday there were 70,924 new infections of Covid confirmed by a positive test, with the number of infections dropping 38 percent in a week.
Hospitalisations also appear to have stabilised, with the number of patients admitted down 1.4 percent over the past seven days.
With the Omicron variant causing less serious illness than previous mutations of the virus, the number of people in ventilation beds has also dropped considerably.
There are now 777 people on mechanical ventilation with Covid, the lowest figure since July.
With the figures heading in the right direction, Mr Johnson is set to scrap mandatory mask-wearing in indoor settings, working from home guidance and compulsory Covid passes next week.
While ministers say a decision has not yet been made, Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden yesterday said “very promising data” had given “pause for hope and optimism”.
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