British PM Johnson confirms review of COVID self-isolation period
- United Kingdom
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday confirmed that cutting the self-isolation period for fully vaccinated people who get COVID-19 from seven to five days was under review.
Under current rules, people in England who test positive for COVID-19 can end their isolation period if they receive a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven. However, mounting pressure on frontline services due to staff absences as a result of self-isolation has led to calls for this period to be cut even further for milder COVID infections, which continues to record daily highs of 141,472 in the UK.
''Yes, of course, we're looking at that and we'll act according to the science as we always have," Johnson told reporters during a pharmacy visit in London, in response to a question about the self-isolation period.
''But what I would say to everybody is that Omicron is still out there, it's incredibly contagious, everybody will know somebody who has had it, it can be pretty unpleasant. Sadly, as you know, 90 per cent of the people who are in the ICU with COVID have not been vaccinated and it's absolutely vital that everybody gets their booster,'' he said.
Several members of Johnson's Cabinet, including UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi, are said to be increasingly in favour of a shorter self-isolation period to address the crisis of staff absences on the frontline.
The Opposition Labour Party is also in favour of a cut in the length of the self-isolation period if it is supported by scientists.
''I'll be guided by the science on this. If the scientists and the medical experts say that it is safe to reduce the period of self-isolation, then I would be inclined to support it,'' Labour Leader Keir Starmer told reporters virtually, while he is self-isolating following a positive COVID-19 test last week.
Johnson's official Downing Street spokesperson noted: ''If it is possible to go further, we'd want to act quickly, but it needs to be based on the latest evidence and that work is still ongoing. We certainly haven't received any further updated advice.'' Meanwhile, Johnson hailed the success of the National Health Service (NHS) led vaccination programme, which he said had helped the UK make ''great progress'' against the Omicron variant, behind surges in COVID infections in recent weeks.
''We're making great progress – the number of people who have been boosted, as I say, is 36 million, 90 per cent of the over-50s have been done – but there are still millions who need to do it,'' said Johnson.
It comes as the state-funded NHS announced a new deal with privately-run local hospitals to activate surge capacity as part of the country's COVID response. A three-month agreement with multiple independent healthcare organisations will see their staff and facilities put on standby to support the NHS should the Omicron variant lead to unsustainable levels of hospitalisations or staff absences, the health service said.
The deal comes on top of additional capacity created within NHS hospitals, by identifying areas such as gyms and education centres to create "super surge" wards. Nightingale hubs are also being created in the grounds of some hospitals as part of the drive to create up to 4,000 "super surge" beds as part of efforts to cope with additional pressures on the health service from the COVID-19 surge and self-isolating staff.
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