Covid self-isolation CUT to five full days to get more Brits back to work amid staffing crisis

COVID isolation will be slashed to FIVE full days – in a push to get more Brits back to work.

The Health Secretary today revealed the major rule change will come in next Monday.

He told ministers people who test positive in England can then leave isolation after five full days, with negative tests on days five and six.

The change follows weeks of calls for isolation to be slashed, as the NHS struggles with mass staff absences.

Health chiefs had resisted doing this sooner, after already reducing isolation from ten to seven days just before Christmas.

But as fresh research suggested the change would only result in an extra two in 100 people leaving quarantine while still infectious, ministers changed their minds.

Key UK Health Security Agency modelling probed the risk of a positive case spreading the virus after two negative lateral flow tests.

It found eight per cent would still be infectious on day five, compared to 6.2 per cent on day seven.

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Ministers today met with experts to sounds out the plans, before Sajid Javid revealed their decision to the Commons.

A string of hugely positive studies show Omicron is milder than other strains in the vaccinated, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.

Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.

The Sun's Jabs Army campaign is helping get the vital extra vaccines in Brits' arms to ward off the need for any new restrictions.

The Health Secretary said: "UKHSA 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.

"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, and I'd urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we have built up in tests so we can restore the freedoms to this country while we're keeping everyone safe."

Isolation rules explained:

Under new rules, which will come into force on Monday (January 17), people in England with Covid can leave isolation after five full days – providing they test negative on lateral flow tests on day five and six.

WITH SYMPTOMS

Isolation starts from the day of your first symptoms.

You must remain in isolation for five full days, and can leave after negative lateral flows on days five and six.

So, if you noticed symptoms on Monday morning – regardless of when you then tested positive – you can take your first test-to-release on Friday.

But if you continue to test positive, you must still remain in isolation until you have a negative test.

NO SYMPTOMS

Isolation starts from the day of your first positive lateral flow test.

You must remain in isolation for five full days, and can leave after negative lateral flows on days five and six.

For example, if you test positive on Monday morning at 11am you must wait until Friday to do your first test and see if you are negative.

But if you continue to test positive, you must still remain in isolation until you have a negative test.

Omicron is now the dominant strain in the UK and most people testing positive with the variant suffer with cold like symptoms.

The army has been drafted in to help the NHS due to crippling staff shortages, while more than one in 12 teachers were off last week.

The cabinet, including the normally cautious Health Secretary, backed the move to slash the number of days Brits must self-isolate after Covid infection.

Mr Javid added: "Omicron is less severe, but no one should be under any illusions. It is severe for anyone who ends up in hospitals.

"We started this year as the freest country in Europe, thanks to the decisions we made in the summer.

"The virus is still with us and there are likely to be difficult weeks again.

"According the to ONS data published yesterday there are encouraging signs."

Experts and ministers had repeatedly called for isolation to be reduced to five days, saying the science backed it up and would get Brits back in vital roles.  

Professor Tim Spector of King's College London and lead author of the Covid Symptom Study App today said restrictions have had a greater impact on colds and flu than the Omicron variant.

He added: "People are having symptoms for a shorter amount of time, especially in that first week.

"It suggests that the isolation period of a week could be reduced to five days.

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"If people are testing negative with ltfs at the end of those five days because the whole period of that infection and getting over it appears to be faster.

"Hospitals being unmanned is far worse risk than the occasional bit of Covid slipping through."

Schools minister Robin Walker had also weighed into the debate, saying he would support reducing the coronavirus isolation period from seven days to five days if the science supported it.

Speaking yesterday, Boris Johnson said a decision would be made "as fast as possible".

Government scientists reportedly told Boris Johnson he would have to accept a slightly increased risk of people leaving isolation while still infectious if he wanted to get people back working sooner.

Under current rules, on day six and seven of isolation, Brits must have a negative Covid test to come out of isolation.

If they continue to test positive then they must continue to isolate until two negative tests are produced or until day 10 of isolation.

The US has already changed its policy to five days, which encouraged more calls for the UK to follow suit.

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