Asking the close contacts of people with COVID-19 to self-isolate has played a critical role in helping us get this virus under control, and millions of people across the UK have made enormous sacrifices by doing this. Every single one of these sacrifices has helped us protect the NHS and save lives.
Getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour and allowed us to safely reclaim our lost freedoms. On 21 July, data showed that 68.8% of the adult population in England had received two doses of the vaccine. As of 10 August, this figure has now increased to 75%.
Last month, as part of step 4 of the Government’s COVID-19 roadmap, we announced changes to the legal requirements to self-isolate to enable further freedoms based on age and vaccination status.
These changes come into force on 16 August and mean those who are a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate if they are fully vaccinated or under 18 years of age. With over three quarters of the adults in the UK having now received both doses of a vaccine, the majority of adults will no longer need to self-isolate if they are contacts – and this proportion will grow further as vaccine roll-out continues.
Exemptions are also being introduced for contacts who are taking part in, or have taken part in, an approved clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine and for those who can evidence that they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
Those who are not required to self-isolate will instead be advised to take a free PCR test as soon as possible to help identify positive cases and check for variants of concern. Children under 5 will only be advised to take a PCR test if they are identified as a household contact. Close contacts will not be required to self-isolate while waiting for the results of their test. They will also be advised to consider other precautions such as wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces and limiting contact with other people, particularly those who are clinically extremely vulnerable.
Anyone who tests positive following a PCR test will still be legally required to self-isolate, irrespective of their vaccination status or age, in order to break onward chains of transmission. Anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate, get a PCR test and remain in self- isolation while waiting for their test result.
Regular testing remains critical to controlling the virus as restrictions ease. Alongside testing for close contacts and anyone with symptoms, everyone in England is also encouraged to take up the Government’s offer of free, twice weekly rapid testing which will allow for the identification of additional asymptomatic cases.
Removing self-isolation for contacts who are under 18 comes ahead of thousands of pupils and students returning to school and college for the autumn term and is a crucial step to reduce disruption to education and keep children in the classroom. Those turning 18 years of age will be treated in the same way as children up until the age of 18 years and 6 months to give them an opportunity to be fully vaccinated.
Health and care workers
From 16 August, most fully vaccinated health and social care staff who are close contacts of positive cases will be able to routinely attend work, provided they have had a negative PCR test result. Daily LFD tests will need to be taken for 10 days as an additional precaution.
Staff working with clinically extremely vulnerable patients or service users will need a risk assessment to be carried out by a designated person in the workplace before they return to work.
Workplace daily contact testing
The Workplace Daily Contact Testing scheme will continue, with testing sites offering daily testing as an alternative to self-isolation for close contacts who are not fully vaccinated. Over 700 sites are now in operation across critical sectors, and over 1 million test kits have been distributed.
NHS COVID-19 app
Updates will be made to the COVID-19 app on 16 August to align with the changing policy on self- isolation. App users identified as a close contact who confirm that they are fully vaccinated or under 18 will not need to self-isolate and will be given advice to book a PCR test.
Anyone, regardless of age or vaccination status, should – as now – self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test if they have symptoms of coronavirus – and it remains their legal duty to self-isolate if they test positive for COVID-19. It also remains a legal duty for contacts who are under 18 and not fully vaccinated (and not exempt for any other reason) to self-isolate.
The exemptions for contacts who are fully vaccinated or under 18 have been made possible by the remarkable success of the UK’s vaccine programme, with over three quarters of UK adults now double jabbed. The latest data from Public Health England and Cambridge University shows that around 60,000 deaths, 22 million infections and 66,900 hospitalisations have been prevented by the vaccines.
This new approach will return some freedoms that we have sacrificed over the last year to help keep the virus at bay, managing the virus in a way that is proportionate to the pandemic now. Vaccines are what will bring this pandemic to an end – the wall of defence provided by the rollout is allowing us to get even closer to normal life. Anyone who hasn’t already, please make sure you come forward for your jab at the earliest opportunity.