ITV News Correspondent Juliet Bremner hears from one family who could now be reunited at Christmas due to the rule change
People who test positive for Covid-19 in England will be able to cut their self-isolation period from 10 days to seven if they return negative lateral flow tests, it has been announced.
The Health Secretary announced the move in a bid to "reduce the disruption to people's everyday lives".
Sajid Javid confirmed from Wednesday those with Covid can leave isolation earlier if they receive negative lateral flow test results on day six and seven of their quarantine period.
The protection these two negative tests provide alongside a seven-day isolation period is "very similar" to ten days of isolation without tests, the health secretary said.
'We want to reduce the disruption to people's everyday lives', says Sajid Javid on the reason for a move to shorter self-isolation requirements
How can I leave self-isolation early if I've tested positive for Covid?
If you've had a positive PCR test in England, you can cut your isolation period short by three days if you take two negative lateral flow tests.
The first test must be taken no earlier than day six of the self-isolation period - the second on day seven - and they must be at least 24 hours apart.
Why are the rules on self-isolation changing?
The change in policy should ease pressure on business and employers facing staff shortages amid soaring Covid cases due to the spread of Omicron.
With a huge number of medical staff in isolation due to infection, there's also an increased risk of a stretched health service being unable to cope with treating Covid patients at a time of intensifying Winter pressures.
Again on Tuesday, the UK reported more than 90,000 confirmed Covid cases - the fourth time the figure has hit 90,000 or beyond in less than a week.
It should also mean people whose festive plans were upended over a positive Covid test in the weeks before Christmas could still be able to celebrate festivities with loved ones.
"This new variant is spreading vary rapidly. It is disrupting many people's lives," said Mr Javid. The health secretary described the step, informed by advice from the UK Health Security agency, as "balanced and proportionate".
"It is great that when people do get infected that they are properly isolating. I think that clearly helps to stop and prevent infection.
"But it is important also to look at how we can have policies that will help to minimise that. And this step- again, informed by our clinicians- I think is a very sensible way forward."
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If I leave self-isolation on day seven - can I return to normal straight away?
Those who leave self-isolation on or after day seven are advised to limit close contact with other people in crowded areas.
They should also work from home and minimise contact with anyone at higher risk of severe illness if infected with the virus.
Have any other self-isolation rules been relaxed?
No. There is no change to the guidance for unvaccinated positive cases, or unvaccinated contacts of positive Covid cases.
Both groups still have to self-isolate for the full 10 days after their date of exposure to the virus.
In a similar move brought in during 2020, the coronavirus isolation period was cut from 14 days to 10 as the Alpha variant spread rapidly across areas of the country.
Echoing the prime minister's remarks about potential further Covid restrictions, Mr Javid confirmed there will be no tougher restrictions brought in for England before Christmas.
But he stressed that the government was looking at all the data "on a daily basis", which is carefully kept under review.
"If new restrictions are required - should the data show that they are required then, of course, we won't hesitate to act," Mr Javid said.
When pressed on how serious the situation has to get before curbs are considered, the health secretary said there is incomplete data on hospitalisations and the severity of Omicron compared to previous strains.
What does the data need to show to prompt tougher restrictions in England?
Pressed on whether we would see changes after Christmas, therefore scuppering New Year's Eve plans, the health secretary said: "People are already being very cautious already."
He added: "It's good to see people are responding to what they're seeing around them".
What is the latest data on Covid infections in the UK?
Figures from NHS England show that 1,904 people were in hospital in London with Covid-19 as of Tuesday - the highest number since March 2.
The capital has seen soaring numbers of Covid cases in the past week, prompting London mayor Sadiq Khan to declare a major incident.
Across England, 6,902 patients were in hospital with Covid-19 on Tuesday – the highest number since November 10.
The UK also reported more than 90,000 new cases of Covid for the fourth time in just seven days, with the total confirmed cases of the variant in the UK rising to at least 60,508.