The UK government on Thursday announced that the minimum period of self-isolation for someone who tests positive for COVID-19 will be reduced from the current seven days to five, effective from Monday.
UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid made a statement in the House of Commons to confirm the change for England, with devolved nations of the United Kingdom usually following similar patterns. From Monday, fully vaccinated people will be able to leave isolation on day six after negative lateral flow tests on that day and a day before – days five and six.
“UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] data shows that around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five and we want to use the testing capacity that we've built up to help these people leave isolation safely,” Javid told Parliament.
“After reviewing all of the evidence, we've made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England. From Monday, people can test twice before they go, leaving isolation at the start of day six. These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans,” he said.
Under current rules, fully vaccinated individuals who test positive are able to end their isolation period after seven days if they receive a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven – with the tests taken 24 hours apart.
There had been calls for the government to reduce the isolation period to reduce staffing pressures across workplaces, including on the National Health Service (NHS) frontlines. England's five-day isolation comes in line with the US, which had cut its self-isolation period to five days last month.
During his COVID-19 update for Parliament, Javid welcomed “encouraging” data from the country's ongoing Omicron wave of not seeing an increase in COVID-19 intensive care patients, with some early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow.
“We know that Omicron is less severe but no-one should be under any illusions it is severe for anyone that ends up in hospital and that's far more likely if you haven't had the jab,” said Javid. “Infections are falling in London and the east of England. But we're still currently seeing infections rise in other parts of the country and the data does not as of yet reflect the impact of people returning to work and school. So, we must proceed with caution. Omicron's far greater transmissibility still has the potential to lead to significant numbers of people in hospital,” he said. It comes as the UK recorded 129,587 new COVID cases on Wednesday, showing a downward trend for the past few days.
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