Calls to cut isolation period

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has backed calls for a 5 day isolation period, meaning that the current Covid isolation period could be cut from seven days to five. Currently, those who test positive for Covid can leave self-isolation after seven days, providing they produce negative results on lateral flow tests on the sixth and seventh day of their isolation period. If they are still positive at this time, then they may have to isolate for the full ten days, as used to be the case across the board.

However, there is now growing pressure for the UK to shift to a plan of ‘living with Covid’. This has resulted in many cabinet ministers also backing the proposed plans to reduce the isolation period. Sunak and other ministers believe cutting isolation to five days from seven could help reduce staffing shortages caused by the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, became the first minister to publicly back the proposition as it would ‘certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others.’

Is it safe?

If the changes are passed through parliament, the UK would join the US and France who have already cut the Covid isolation period to five days. The government has stressed that the move would have to be deemed safe by scientists before any changes come into effect.

If it is determined that it is safe for the isolation period to be shortened, this heralds another positive step in the fight against Covid. Further optimism can be seen as Covid cases continue to fall across the country, lending hope to the theory that Omicron may have reached its peak.

In a further boost to the proposed plans, new modelling by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine shows there is no difference between five and seven days of quarantine as long as people test negative on the two days before release – similar to the rules as they are now. Furthermore, a leading member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) has said reducing Covid self-isolation from seven to five days is expected to work “extremely well” in tackling community transmission as well as reducing widespread staffing shortages that are currently impacting the workforce.

Will it go ahead?

However, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson is reported to be backing the plans to reduce the self-isolation period, it seems he is erring on the side of caution for now. Johnson commented:

‘We’ll continue to look at the infectivity periods, but the key thing is we don’t want to be releasing people back into the workplace when they’re still infectious. And the risk is you’d increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three. So you might perversely have a negative effect on the workforce if you see what I mean, so that’s the argument we’re looking at.’

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