The isolation period for fully vaccinated people in England who test positive for COVID will be reduced from seven days to five, the health secretary has announced.
“Two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the Commons, citing data from the UK Health Security Agency.
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Individuals will be able to leave their isolation after five full days, provided they have negative tests on days five and six.
Previously, fully vaccinated individuals who tested positive were able to end their isolation period after seven days if they received a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven – with the tests taken 24 hours apart.
This change was introduced just before Christmas, but there had been calls for the government to reduce the isolation period again due to continuing pressure on the NHS and workplaces amid the continuing spread of the Omicron variant.
Further change has been under consideration in recent weeks, with supporters saying it would mitigate the impact of high numbers of people isolating.
But worries have been expressed about the potential for such a move to drive an increase in infections.
‘We must proceed with caution’
Updating MPs on the situation with COVID more generally, the health secretary said the virus “is still with us” and there are “still likely to be difficult weeks ahead”.
But Mr Javid said data from the Office for National Statistics shows “encouraging signs that infections are falling in London and the east of England” and that there are “already early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow”.
He added that infections are rising in other parts of the country and the data has yet to reflect the impact of people going back to work and school after Christmas.
“We must proceed with caution,” the health secretary said.
On hospitalisations, Mr Javid said Omicron “still has the potential to lead to significant numbers of people in hospital”, with almost 17,000 patients currently in hospital in England.
“Due to the lag between infections and hospitalisations, the NHS will remain under significant pressure over the next few weeks,” he continued.
“It is encouraging, however, that during this wave we have not seen an increase in COVID-19 intensive care patients, and there are already early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow.
“We know that Omicron is less severe. But no-one should be under any illusions, it is severe for anyone that ends up in hospital, and that’s far more likely if you have not had the jab.”