Covid: Quarantine for Covid contacts could be scrapped

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People may not need to self-isolate if they have been in close contact with someone with Covid, if a new trial is successful.

The government-backed research will trial giving people daily lateral flow tests for seven days – instead of quarantining for 10 days.

So long as they test negative all week, they can carry on with their lives.

From 9 May, about 40,000 close contacts of people with Covid in England will be invited to take part in the study.

Self-isolating means staying at home and not leaving it – not even to buy food or medicines, or for exercise.

Between May 2020 and April 2021 in England, more than 6.7m close contacts were reached and told to self-isolate, NHS Test and Trace data shows.

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What are the current self-isolation rules?

  • You usually have to self-isolate for 10 days if you’ve tested positive or been in close contact with someone who has
  • Close contact includes being within two metres of someone for more than 15 minutes, or within one metre for a minute
  • You might need to self-isolate for longer if you get symptoms
  • People told to self-isolate are not allowed visitors, and are not allowed to leave their home

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A large study of the NHS test-and-trace system, published last month, found low numbers of people had followed the self-isolation rules in full.

Men, younger people and parents with young children were less likely to self-isolate – as were those from more working-class backgrounds, people in financial hardship and key workers.

Common reasons for not fully self-isolating included going to the shops or work, for a medical need, to care for a vulnerable person, to exercise or meet others – or because symptoms were only mild or getting better.

As part of this major new study, people will have to test themselves every morning for seven days and will be exempt from the legal requirement to quarantine at home every day they test negative, as long as they do not show any symptoms of Covid.

Lateral flow tests give results in about 30 minutes but are considered less sensitive than PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, which are processed in a laboratory with results returned in 24 hours or so.

UK summary data

It is hoped the trial could provide evidence to reduce the length of time contacts of positive cases need to isolate.

Professor Isabel Oliver, Public Health England’s national infection service director, said the study would be key to informing how “the approach to testing might evolve”.

“This study will help to determine whether we can deploy daily testing for contacts to potentially reduce the need for self-isolation, while still ensuring that chains of transmission are stopped,” she said.

“Contacts of cases are at higher risk of infection so testing them is a very effective way of preventing further spread.”

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: “This new pilot could help shift the dial in our favour by offering a viable alternative to self-isolation for people who are contacts of positive Covid-19 cases, and one that would allow people to carry on going to work and living their lives.”

On Saturday, a further seven deaths within 28 days of positive Covid tests were reported – and 1,907 more cases.

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