In the latest revision to England’s rules for combatting the coronavirus, Boris Johnson’s government has ruled that the self-isolation period required of those who have tested positive for Covid-19 can now be cut from seven days to five in the event that they subsequently test negative twice.
Health secretary Sajid Javid announced last Thursday that the cut would come into effect in England from Monday 17 January, but said people would have to test negative on day six to escape isolation.
The scientific evidence is that two-thirds of Covid cases are “no longer infectious after the end of day five”, Mr Javid told the House of Commons, adding that any curbs on people’s freedoms must be the “absolutely the last resort” and should not remain in place “a day longer than absolutely necessary”.
Previously, people were required to isolate for seven days from the point at which they have symptoms or test positive – with release after two negative lateral flow test results on days six and seven.
The revised guidance applies to everyone, regardless of their vaccination status or which strain of Covid they may have contracted.
Those who are not double-jabbed and come into contact with an infected person must still self-isolate for the full seven days but those who are vaccinated and encounter the virus do not have to isolate but are now advised to take lateral flows daily.
Should one of those come back positive, indicating a “breakthrough” case, the patient should isolate for the full seven days and seek a PCR test to verify the result.
The prime minister previously warned of five-day isolation: “The risk is you would increase the numbers of people going back into the workplace who are infectious by a factor of three.”
However, he subsequently changed tack after further consultation with the government’s scientific advisers, keen to cut workplace disruption as the Omicron variant continues to thrive and daily infection numbers remain high.
Staff shortages have continued to create problems across the country over the last two months and the government is desperate to avoid a repeat of the “pingdemic” experienced in summer 2021 when the overzealous NHS Test and Trace app was firing out notifications ordering people to self-isolate and inadvertently causing chaos.
Another recent change to protocol means that, as of Tuesday 11 January, asymptomatic Covid patients who test positive with a lateral flow test no longer need to seek a PCR test to confirm the diagnosis.
Those without symptoms can begin self-isolating immediately, rather than waiting days for confirmation, which should further help to eat into the staff shortages currently blighting British businesses while also relieving pressure on overworked laboratories.
Anyone who tests positive is still advised to upload their result to the NHS system to enable Test and Trace to contact their close contacts and those and those who do betray symptoms (high temperature, continuous cough and loss of sense of taste or smell) are still instructed to seek a PCR.