People who test positive for Covid in England will be able to leave self-isolation after five days instead of seven from Monday, health secretary Sajid Javid has announced.
Anyone who tests positive for Covid can leave self-isolation if they have two negative lateral flow tests after five full days, which brings England’s advice in line with the US.
Javid also announced that 1.3m people who are clinically vulnerable to Covid, such as cancer patients or those with Down’s Syndrome, will be eligible to get Covid antiviral medication after testing positive.
The move to reduce the self-isolation period will free up more workers who have contracted Covid to get back to work faster in what will be a boon to the British economy.
Karl Thompson, an economist from the Centre for Economics and Business Research, estimates that seven-day self-isolation costs the UK economy £83m per every 200,000 Covid cases.
The UK recorded 129,587 cases yesterday, after reaching more than 200,000 daily cases earlier this month as the Omicron wave peaked.
“I’ve always said to the house that any curbs on our freedoms must be an absolute last resort and we shouldn’t keep them in place for a day longer than necessary,” Javid told MPs.
“With this in mind, we’ve been reviewing the isolation period for positive cases to make sure the measures we have in place maximise activity in the economy and education, for example, but also minimise the risk of infectious people leaving isolation.
“UK Health and Security Agency data shows two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day-five. We want to use the testing capacity we’ve built up to help these people leave isolation safely.”
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicates that Omicron cases are now falling in London and the South East, but that infections are still rising in other parts of the country.
The numbers also show that the number of intensive care patients have not risen throughout the Omicron wave, despite the spiking number of hospitalisations.
Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting said he welcomed the cut in the self-isolation period, but that the government must “sort out testing” after there were shortages of lateral flow tests in December.
“Workforce shortages are one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS and the wider economy during the current wave of the Omicron variant,” he said.
“This measure will help people get back to work faster and safely, great news for the Prime Minister who through terrible, unfortunate of timing is self-isolating today … how good of the secretary of state to help the Prime Minister back to work in time to face the music again at Prime Minister’s Questions next week.”