The self-isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 has been reduced from 10 to seven days in England.
Following the latest evidence from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), the government has announced updated self-isolation guidelines.
The change means that, regardless of vaccination status, from today people can leave self-isolation if they test negative for lateral flow device (LFD) on day six and then again on the seventh day, at 24 hour intervals.
It comes amid concerns about a spike in absences of nurses and other healthcare workers having to self-isolate, as health and care services grapple with the Omicron variant and a subsequent new wave of cases of Covid-19.
The reason for the update is that the UKHSA said this new seven-day guideline “has almost the same protective effect as a 10-day isolation period without an LFD test”.
Both the government and the UKHSA have said this update means there will be less pressure on public services, already under strain, as people can return to work more quickly.
The updated guidelines reflect the latest information on what is known about how long someone who tests positive for Covid-19 is able to transmit the virus.
However, the extent to which the change in guidelines will ease nursing pressures is unclear, as the government is still advising those who complete self-isolation on day seven to “limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, working from home and minimizing contact with anyone at higher risk of serious illness if infected with Covid-19.
“It is essential that people continue to play their part by testing regularly and isolating themselves if they test positive”
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of UKHSA, said the move would help “break the chains of transmission and minimize the impact on lives and livelihoods”.
She added: “Covid-19 is spreading rapidly among the population and the rate at which Omicron transmits may pose a risk to the management of our critical public services during the winter.”
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid mirrored what was said by the UKSHA, saying the new change would “reduce the disruption of Covid-19 to people’s daily lives”.
Mr Javid said: “Following the advice of our clinical experts, we are reducing the self-isolation period from 10 days to seven if you test negative on an LFD test for two consecutive days.
“It is essential that people continue to play their part by testing regularly and isolating themselves if they test positive. And I urge you to “boost now” to protect yourself and those around you.
Unvaccinated people who come into contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 must still self-isolate for 10 full days.
UKHSA studies have also found that LFD tests are as sensitive to detecting the Omicron variant as they are to Delta.
Along with this update, the government’s other longstanding public health measures remain in place.
People should stay home if they feel unwell, get tested if they have symptoms of Covid-19, wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces, work from home if possible, maintain a social distance, wash your hands regularly and get vaccinated.