Data justifying five-day self-isolation has been evident since summer

Data justifying move to cut self-isolation period to five days was evident last SUMMER, experts argue amid growing calls for Boris Johnson to follow the US to save nation from being paralysed by workforce shortages with 1.3MILLION under house arrest

  • EXCLUSIVE: Oxford University research found 98% of transmission occurs within first five days of symptoms 
  • But UKHSA scientists say it would be ‘counterproductive’ and risks sending infectious people back to work
  • And No10 has so far resisted calls from experts, businesses and MPs to slash current seven-day requirement
  • Experts told MailOnline that the research shows ‘we can safely reduce the isolation period’ to five days
  • Iceland boss said ‘seven days is a long time’ for boosted people suffering only cold and flu-like symptoms 
  • Tory MP Craig Mackinlay said cutting quarantine could be ‘the answer’ to England’s self-isolation misery

Ministers have sat on evidence justifying slashing self-isolation to just five days since last summer, according to critics who have demanded Boris Johnson drops the crippling rules that are paralysing the nation. 

Rail services and bin collections have ground to a halt with up to 1.3million Britons currently under house arrest, while the workforce crisis has left NHS bosses asking heart attack patients to make their own way to hospital. 

But the Adam Smith Institute, a neoliberal thinktank, said data published in August last year suggested it was safe to halve the quarantine period, which at the time stood at 10 days.

Oxford University research found 98 per cent of transmission occurs within the first five days of symptoms, and prompted experts on the topic to say the isolation period ‘could be much shorter’. 

Virologists said today that they agreed with the findings, with the vast majority of spread happening in the days before and after someone starts feeling ill.

And James Lawson, a fellow at the ASI, told MailOnline: ‘The research shows we can safely reduce the isolation period.  

‘Governments say they want to follow the science, yet are ignoring the changes in circumstances and much of the data we’ve had since last summer.’ 

He added: ‘The isolation period is having harmful unintended consequences, including putting more pressure on the NHS through staff shortages. It is also making it harder to keep schools open, maintain deliveries and so on, which undermine wider society.’

Mr Lawson also said it was time for No10 to ‘start trusting Britons’ to take sensible precautions and ‘forge a path back to normality, rather than adopting restrictions forever’.

Meanwhile, an NHS leader yesterday called for the period to be cut to five days if the science allows, saying any way to get staff back to work would be a ‘good thing’. 

A total of 24 out of 137 NHS trusts in England have declared critical incidents. Shown above are the trusts which have publically declared the incidents in the country, although all are not named

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 on Monday

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool on Tuesday

Last month ministers trimmed the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But the Prime Minister is under huge pressure to follow the US, which squeezed quarantine to just five days for anyone without symptoms.

Business leaders yesterday warned that they too were struggling, with the managing director of supermarket Iceland saying their absence graph was ‘almost vertical’ and more than double the previous peak. 

Richard Walker, managing director of the chain, told Sky News: ‘I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact.

‘My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

Now No10 scraps pre-departure Covid swabs and says Day 2 tests do NOT have to be PCR

Boris Johnson yesterday axed the Covid travel testing scheme brought in to fight Omicron and asymptomatic people who test positive on lateral flow no longer need a follow-up PCR, in a bid to ration testing.

The Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons that fully vaccinated passengers entering the UK will no longer be required to take pre-departure tests from 4am on Friday.

Day 2 follow-up PCRs for UK arrivals are also being scrapped and replaced by lateral flows — saving people up to £60 per test — and people no longer need to isolate until they get a negative result.

If they test positive, however, they will have to take a PCR swab and self-isolate for up to 10 days if they are indeed positive.

Mr Johnson said the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease. 

The moves — which were welcomed by the struggling travel industry —  come after it was revealed confirmatory PCRs for asymptomatic cases who test positive on lateral flow will also be scrapped next week. 

The changes have been announced amid sky-high case numbers — with another 197,000 announced yesterday — and unprecedented demand for testing.

‘Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.’

MPs and experts have also joined the growing chorus demanding a change in the rules, with other nations such as France and Greece having already cut it down to five days. 

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline earlier this week that the government faced a ‘tough’ choice, but the country was in the midst of a ‘semi-lockdown’ with a million Britons currently isolating after catching Covid.

He said cutting the quarantine period from seven to five days could be ‘the answer’ to England’s self-isolation misery.

‘We’re almost facing a semi-lockdown because of people being off work who are perfectly well. You couldn’t make that up,’ he said. ‘The US must have done a lot of work on it… and they have come up with five days as the answer. Perhaps it is.’

Epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, who runs Covid-tracking study ZOE, said the UK should follow suit to ‘protect the economy’.

And Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts — said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science. 

He told BBC Radio 4: ‘As long as it is based on the science. Because on the one hand we do need to try to get staff back to work as soon as possible.

‘Hospitals who have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate — any way of getting staff back into hospital is a good thing.

‘But on the other hand, if staff come back into hospital and are infectious, that’s completely counterproductive because that is going to mean more sickness in the hospital and for staff, so this can’t be led by politics or blind hope — it has to be led by the science.

‘If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible.’

He suggested that people in quarantine could test themselves on days three, four and five, and come out of isolation on day five if they test negative.  

University of St Andrews’ researchers first raised the alarm bells about the length of quarantine in November 2020, discovering that the vast majority of Covid transmission happens during the first few days that someone is ill.

The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Microbe, was a review of 79 studies investigating how long someone is infectious for.

The team’s assertion that most people do no spread the virus after five days was based on research out of China and Taiwan — but only included several hundred patients.  

And in August last year Oxford University scientists said just two per cent of transmission happens from five days after warning signs appear.

The institute’s Pathogen Dynamics Group — which was involved in developing the NHS Test and Trace app — also found 40 per cent of transmission occurs before symptoms emerge, and 35 per cent within the first and second days of falling ill. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated a record 3.27million people in England were infected on any given day in the week to December 31, up more than 60 per cent on the previous week

Even NHS bosses back cutting self-isolation period to FIVE days as staffing crisis sees hospitals CANCEL routine operations 

An NHS leader yesterday revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the situation was ‘desperate’ and any way of getting staff back to work was a ‘good thing’. But he said it would be ‘completely counterproductive’ to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.

Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.

Around 1.3million Britons are currently thought to be languishing under house arrest as the NHS, rail services and bin collections all buckle under the weight of staff absences.

One in ten NHS employees are estimated to be off sick or self-isolating, and Mr Johnson yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to call in the Army if the crisis continues to worsen.

Some 10 out of 137 hospital trusts in England have declared ‘critical incidents’ in recent days — or eight per cent, signalling that they may struggle to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks because so many medics are off isolating. Seventeen hospitals in Greater Manchester have also started shelving operations. 

For comparison, only about two per cent of transmission was recorded over the five to ten days after symptoms emerged.

Oxford University sources said the paper was shared with the Government before its results were released. It is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is unclear how many Covid cases the teams findings were based on. 

Neither team has yet to comment on whether isolation should be shortened in response to current pressures.

But UK Health Security Agency scientists say any further reduction would be ‘counterproductive’, arguing it risks sending infectious people back to work and spreading the virus further. 

The body, which replaced the now-defunct Public Health England, recommended the change because modelling showed it did not increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Professor Julian Tang, a virologist from Leicester University, told MailOnline: ‘I think the studies’ findings are right. Most transmission occurs just before and just after symptom onset.

‘Up to five to seven days post symptom onset the immune response kicks in, and starts to decrease the viral load.’

He suggested NHS workers could be allowed to return to their jobs from seven days after developing symptoms, regardless of whether they had tested positive. 

‘If they are a healthcare worker and they are going to be wearing masks at work all day, [the risk of transmission] may not matter much,’ Professor Tang added.

‘If they are a teacher going back to school to teach in a class of mostly vaccinated and masked children, it may not matter much.’

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline research suggests ‘the large majority of Covid infections are transmitted between two days before to three days after symptom onset’. 

‘That doesn’t mean infection after that is impossible just very unlikely,’ he said. 

‘Some risk remains for longer than five days but it is so small that continuing isolation beyond five days, whether or not LFD positive, is probably not justified except when in Contact with particularly vulnerable people,’ Professor Hunter added. 

Dr Alex Crozier, a researcher at University College London, told MailOnline the UK should not rely on lateral flow tests for its isolation policy, as they can ‘often take much longer than 10 days to materialise and we risk over-isolating people and exacerbating staffing issues this way’.

‘A lot of vaccinated people will continue to test positive beyond day five to seven via LFT, even once their symptoms have resolved and the risk of onwards transmission is really quite low,’  he said.

The vast majority of the population is double-jabbed and ‘many of us even have four or five doses of immunity now’, Dr Crozier said.  

‘We therefore have to interpret the results of antigen tests differently and carefully in three-dosed individuals,’ he said.

Dr Crozier added: ‘People testing negative a few days into symptoms doesn’t necessarily always mean they aren’t infectious, and testing positive post day five doesn’t necessarily mean they are significantly infectious.

‘There is a trade-off to be had and it is all about balancing different risks.

‘After testing positive, if symptoms have resolved for more than 24 to 48 hours and people have received the booster vaccine, we might be able to release them earlier than day 10, regardless of LFT status. 

‘If they still have some symptoms on day five then that is a different story. For critical roles, we can now probably move to a more flexible isolation policy, based on clinical expertise and context, not relying on just LFT status and blanket rules.’ 

Julian Jessop, economics fellow at the think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, told MailOnline that the case for easing the rules for mandatory isolation periods is ‘further is strengthening by the day’.  

He said: ‘Scientists are now more confident that the Omicron variant is milder, and that the risks of transmission drop off sharply within a few days. This reduces the benefits of lengthy isolation periods.

‘On the other side of the equation, the surge in the number testing positive for Covid is adding to the costs of isolation, since many more people are having to stay at home.’

Mr Jessop added: ‘It is hard to see how widespread staff shortages of 10 per cent or more will not have a crushing impact on output. Even just a 2 per cent reduction in activity would cost the economy about £4 billion every month.

‘It might be worth taking a large but temporary hit to GDP to protect health, and this could be better for the economy too in the long run. However, long isolation periods seem to be doing more harm than good – including to the NHS itself.

‘It is increasingly clear that the biggest threat to the NHS is a shortage of staff, due to the isolation rules, rather than a surge in the number of people who are seriously ill with Covid.

‘The UK government should therefore not hesitate to follow the trend elsewhere in Europe, the US and South Africa, and continue to ease the isolation rules. Reducing the minimum period from 7 to 5 days would be an obvious next step.’

Calling for self-isolation periods to be reduced, Matthew Taylor, the head of the NHS Confederation which represents trusts, said two more days could be shaved off.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday: ‘On the one hand we do need to try to get staff back to work as soon as possible.

‘Hospitals who have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate — any way of getting staff back into hospital is a good thing.

‘But on the other hand, if staff come back into hospital and are infectious, that’s completely counterproductive because that is going to mean more sickness in the hospital and for staff, so this can’t be led by politics or blind hope — it has to be led by the science.’

The areas worst affected by the self-isolation rules include: 

THE NHS

One in ten NHS staff are off sick or self-isolating. Bosses claim the shortages are making it ‘almost impossible’ to maintain basic patient care.

An ambulance trust asked patients with heart attacks and strokes to get a lift to hospital because it did not have enough fit paramedics.

The North East Ambulance Service Foundation Trust said call handlers should ‘consider asking the patient to be transported by friends or family’.

A message to staff said they were also having to ferry patients to hospital in taxis due to ‘unprecedented demand’.

Meanwhile at least eight hospital trusts have declared ‘critical incidents’, which means routine patient care is suffering and staff are being redeployed.

Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital had nearly 500 staff absent due to Covid. Morecambe Bay NHS Trust in Lancashire declared a critical incident due to the number of staff testing positive for coronavirus. Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, public health director for the region, said: ‘We are bracing ourselves for a tsunami of Omicron cases in Lancashire.’

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said the staffing situation meant it was ‘becoming almost impossible’ to deal with ‘the most urgent and pressing needs’.

He told Times Radio that ‘the most pressing element of all’ is the number of staff who are absent due to the virus, rather than the number of Covid patients needing treatment.

Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cheshire and parts of Essex and Cumbria announced that bin collections would have to be missed or rearranged. Pictured: Festive period rubbish and recycling in Birmingham

BIN ROUNDS

Manchester, Birmingham, London, Cheshire and parts of Essex and Cumbria announced that bin collections would have to be missed or rearranged.

In Birmingham, rubbish was left to pile high in the streets.

Pavel Bartos, 23, of Aston, said residents had been waiting since before Christmas to have their bins emptied. ‘It’s been a nightmare and the place has been left looking like a complete tip,’ he said.

‘It is an absolute eyesore and we thought they would be collected by now, but they haven’t. It’s like living in a slum.

‘We were told the Christmas collections would be missed due to staff shortages but to be four days into the New Year and is still look like this is really bad.’

North Somerset Council was unable to pick up 1,000 recycling bins on New Year’s Eve because of staff illness. A spokesman for the Local Government Association called for council workers to be prioritised for Covid tests.

Operators had already been forced to slash dozens of daily services due to around one in ten rail staff calling in sick. Some train firms will now run reduced services for several weeks. Pictured: Victoria train station yesterday

Rail commuters were hit with disruption on the first working day of the year thanks to staff shortages, slashed timetables and faults with trains and tracks

TRAINS

Rail commuters were hit with disruption on the first working day of the year thanks to staff shortages, slashed timetables and faults with trains and tracks.

Operators had already been forced to slash dozens of daily services due to around one in ten rail staff calling in sick. Some train firms will now run reduced services for several weeks.

TransPennine Express cancelled 24 trains on Tuesday, while CrossCountry has removed around 50 daily services until next week.

LNER, which runs on the East Coast Main Line, has slashed 12 services a day between London and Leeds until Friday.

Southern is not running any services in and out of London Victoria until January 10.

The Gatwick Express, which resumed only three weeks ago after an 18-month closure, has been suspended indefinitely. ScotRail will cut around 160 trains from its normal 2,000 a day until January 28, meaning fewer services in and out of Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Meanwhile Transport for Wales cancelled almost 100 trains, including services between Newport and Crosskeys and Chester and Liverpool Lime Street.

CARE HOMES

Mike Padgham, chairman of the Independent Care Group, which represents care homes in Yorkshire, said the staffing challenge ‘is now at the worst it has been throughout the pandemic’.

He said some care homes and home care providers are struggling to operate and called on the Government to appeal for retired nurses, doctors, and carers to come forward so they can help struggling social care services.

In a letter to ministers, he said: ‘As you know, we need a fully functioning social care sector to ensure that NHS hospital care can function effectively and not be overwhelmed because people cannot be discharged to care settings.

‘At the moment, that cannot be guaranteed and I fear the setting up of surge hubs is not a long-term solution as they too will be struggling for staff.’

Pupils are returning to the classroom after the Christmas break, with advice for secondary school pupils in England to wear face masks in lessons due to a rise in coronavirus cases. Pictured: Pupils work in a classroom at The Fulham Boys School on the first day after the Christmas holidays

SCHOOLS

School leaders told of their worries that staff shortages could worsen and cause further disruption to children’s education.

Union leaders warned of a ‘stressful time’ ahead as existing teacher absences on the first day of term could become even more ‘challenging’ in the weeks ahead. Some schools are reporting that around one in five staff members could be missing at the start of term.

Pupils are returning to the classroom after the Christmas break, with advice for secondary school pupils in England to wear face masks in lessons due to a rise in coronavirus cases. Secondary and college students are also being encouraged to test on site before going back to class.

Some could end up wearing coats in lessons in the weeks ahead as heads and academy leaders increase ventilation to help keep classrooms safe.

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