Minister backs cutting Covid self-isolation period

The UK education secretary said reducing self-quarantine from seven to five days would be helpful

British Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has suggested pressure on the UK’s “critical workforce” can be reduced if the self-isolation period for Covid-infected patients is officially cut shorter.

A move to shorten the isolation period for those with a confirmed Covid-19 infection from seven to five days “would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others,” Zahawi told British media on Sunday.

However, he said expert and scientific advice was needed to make it happen. “What you don’t want is to create the wrong outcome by higher levels of infection,” he added in an interview with Sky News.

Zahawi said the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) is currently looking into the issue. “If they review it and say they will bring it down to five days that is even better for me, it’s even more helpful,” he told the Sunday Times.

I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic. 

At the moment, if a person receives a Covid-positive PCR test result, immediate self-isolation is required. Isolation can end if two rapid lateral flow tests (self-administered antigen tests) taken on days six and seven, at least 24 hours apart, are negative – and the person does not have fever. If the tests are still positive, isolation extends for 10 more days. 

Last week, the UK health agency said reducing the isolation period “would be counterproductive,” but that its assessment may change depending on further studies, especially of the Omicron variant and its differences from Delta. Health officials fear some patients released on day five may still be infectious. 

There are currently several lines of defense from the deadly virus, which include vaccination, antivirals, and testing, according to the education secretary. The latter – the lateral flow tests in particular – will remain available to the public free of charge, Zahawi said, adding that 425 million such tests are in stock for January alone.

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