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Self-isolation cut to five days after positive test

by Sofia Lind
14 January 2022

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People who have tested positive for Covid can now end their self-isolation after five days if they test negative on a lateral flow test on day 5 and 6, the Government has announced.

The new advice, which is for England only and is effective from Monday (17 January), was welcomed by the NHS Confederation, which had called for such a move to reduce absences among healthcare staff.

The decision was made ‘after careful consideration of modelling from the UK Health Security Agency’ and ‘to support essential public services and workforces over the winter’, the Department of Health and Social Care said.

The self-isolation period had already been reduced from 10 to seven days on 22 December, contingent on consecutive negative LFTs. And, last week, NHS England said GPs with Covid could return to work after 10 days even with a positive LFT, following a risk assessment.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘After reviewing all of the evidence, we’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England.

‘These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we’ve built up in tests so we can restore more freedom to this country, whilst we are keeping everyone safe.’

NHS Confederation chief executive Matthew Taylor said: ‘We called for consideration to be given to reducing the self-isolation period in England as one way of alleviating the NHS staffing crisis if it could be backed by the appropriate evidence and so, we are glad the Government has acted quickly.

‘This is a pragmatic move which leaders will welcome if it can mean more health and care workers who are well enough can return to the frontline, providing it does not significantly add to the risk of the virus spreading.’

New DHSC guidance regarding self-isolation after a positive Covid test

  • From Monday, 17 January, people with Covid-19 in England can end their self-isolation after five full days.
  • It is crucial that people isolating with Covid-19 wait until they have received two negative lateral flow tests on two consecutive days to reduce the chance of still being infectious.
  • The first test must be taken no earlier than day 5 of the self-isolation period, and the second must be taken the following day.
  • If an individual is positive on day 5, then a negative test is required on day 6 and day 7 to release from isolation.
  • Two negative lateral flow tests must be taken on consecutive days and reported before individuals return to their job or education, if leaving self-isolation earlier than the full 10-day period. (For instance, if an individual is positive on day 5, then a negative test is required on both day 6 and day 7 to release from self-isolation, or positive on day 6, then a negative test is required on days 7 and 8, and so on until the end of day 10.)
  • Those who leave self-isolation on or after day 6 are strongly advised to wear face coverings and limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home if they can do so and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid-19.
  • The default self-isolation period continues to be 10 days, and you may only leave self-isolation early if you have taken two LFDs and do not have a temperature in line with guidance.

UKHSA self-isolation period risk modelling

  • Under the current testing rules, around 6% of people will be infectious when they are released from isolation on day 7 following two consecutive negative LFDs.
  • Once the guidance is changed to end isolation on day 6 with two consecutive negative lateral flow results, modelling from the UK Health Security Agency shows this figure will rise to around 7%.
  • If you leave isolation on day 6, after 5 full days of isolation, between 20% and 30% of people are still infectious.
  • The percentage of those released whilst infectious is reduced to around 7% if people have two consecutive negative tests and then leave isolation from day 6.

This story first appeared on our sister title, Pulse.