Covid self-isolation period to be cut to five full days in England, Sajid Javid announces

In the US, isolation is already five days - are we right to do the same? Political Correspondent Dan Hewitt reports

The period of time people must self-isolate for following a positive coronavirus test is being reduced to five full days in England, the health secretary has announced.

Sajid Javid said the government had decided to further reduce the legally required self-isolation period, down from seven days, following scientific advice.

People must test negative for coronavirus on the fifth and sixth days (with the day a positive test is recorded being day one) of their isolation period before they are allowed to leave.

The guidance will be implemented from Monday.

The move is designed to minimise the impact positive coronavirus test results are having on industries, with thousands of people being sent into self-isolation for at least seven days, making them unavailable to work.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

There has been particular concern in the health service, with NHS hospitals across the country declaring critical incidents in response to huge Covid-related staff absences.

A total of 40,031 NHS staff at hospital trusts in England were absent for Covid-19 reasons on January 9, up 2% on the previous week (39,142) – and more than three times the number at the start of December.

But NHS England data shows that hospital staff absences due to Covid have dropped every day since reaching a peak of 49,941 on January 5.

The total includes staff who were ill with coronavirus or who were having to self-isolate.

Some health experts had been worried that reducing the self-isolation period might cause people to return to work too early and as a result, spread Covid into hospitals.

But the negative test required for people to end their quarantine period is intended to prevent people spreading the virus.

Lateral flow tests produce quick results. Credit: PA

The Royal College of Nursing called for its members to be exempt and to remain under seven-day isolation rules.

General secretary and chief executive Pat Cullen said: “This change could increase the risk of transmission to other staff and patients. When providing close care, including to those with compromised immune systems, nursing staff must be confident that they are not putting patients at risk.”

Explaining the changes, Health Secretary Javid 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."

People are no longer required to get a PCR test following a lateral flow test if they are asymptomatic following a change last week.

America cut its required self-isolation period to five days at the end of last year and the UK has been urged to follow suit ever since.

Until now the government had resisted pressure, after reducing the self-isolation period from 10 to seven days before Christmas.