Shorter isolation period comes into effect as minister offers hopeful outlook
People in England can end their coronavirus isolation after a full five days in a move hailed as restoring ‘additional freedoms’.
It comes as a Cabinet minister sounded an optimistic note saying signs of lifting restrictions later this month are “encouraging”.
Under a change to self-isolation guidelines from Monday, people can leave quarantine after a full five days, provided they test negative on days five and six.
Ministers had been under pressure to reduce the period of isolation – which was previously seven days – to help address staff shortages in the economy and public services by allowing people to return to work earlier.
The government said research has shown that between 20% and 30% of people are still infectious on day six, but the percentage of people discharged while infectious drops to around 7% if people test negative twice consecutively, then leave solitary confinement from the sixth day.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “Following a thorough review of the evidence, we have reduced the minimum period for self-isolation to five full days in England.
“This is a balanced and proportionate approach to restoring additional freedoms and reducing pressure on essential public services during the winter.
“It’s crucial that people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to make sure you’re not infectious.”
The Department of Health said the default self-isolation period remains 10 days and people can only end it early if they receive two negative results on consecutive days – the first being day five and six.
As Boris Johnson prepares to review Plan B rules on mandatory mask-wearing, working from home and Covid passes on January 26, Conservative Party Chairman Oliver Dowden has indicated things are looking up good for a rollback of measurements.
He said there were “very promising data” on infections and hospital admissions of the Omicron variant, which “gives us pause for hope and optimism”.
Mr Dowden told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday: ‘I always hoped we would have the Plan B restrictions for the shortest time possible.
“I have no doubts about the kind of burdens this places on hospitality, wider business, schools etc. and I want us to get rid of those if possible.
“The signs are encouraging but, clearly, we will wait to see the data before that final decision.”
As the rollout of jabs continues, NHS England said from Monday reminders will be offered to children aged 12 to 15 who are most at risk from coronavirus.
They said children at clinical risk in this age group or those who live with someone with a compromised immune system are eligible for their booster three months after their two primary doses, and those who are severely immunocompromised are eligible for a booster after a third primary dose.
Meanwhile, all 16 and 17 year olds in England can get their boosters from Monday.
Around 40,000 teenagers will be eligible for their top-up dose when the national booking service opens in the final phase of the vaccination programme.
Previously, boosters were only recommended for clinically vulnerable 16 and 17 year olds who are most at risk of Covid-19.