Covid: Self-isolation to be scrapped for double-jabbed and children in England

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Fully vaccinated people in England won’t have to self-isolate if a close contact tests positive for Covid from 16 August, the health secretary says.

Sajid Javid told MPs the same policy would also apply to anyone under the age of 18 from that date.

The government would give more details this week on self-isolation rules for international travel, he added.

“This new approach means we can manage the virus in a way that is proportionate,” Mr Javid said.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has also announced the end of the “bubble” system in schools, which has led to large numbers of pupils being sent home if a single child has a positive test, from 19 July.

Covid-related pupil absence in England has hit a new high since all students returned to school in March.

On Monday, the prime minister confirmed he intended to scrap most of the remaining restrictions in England on 19 July, including the laws on mask wearing and rules on social distancing.

Earlier, Mr Javid said daily cases “could go as high as 100,000” when restrictions were fully lifted.

In a statement to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said: “From 16 August when even more people will have the protection of both doses, and when modelling suggests the risks from the virus will be even lower, anyone who is a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been fully vaccinated.

“If someone gets their second dose just before or just after 16 August, they’ll need to wait two weeks, after which their second jab can take effect and give them these new freedoms.”

As under-18s are not routinely jabbed, he said a similar exemption from self-isolation rules would be extended to them.

He said adults who had been in close contact with a positive case would be “advised” to get a PCR test as soon as possible to make sure they hadn’t been infected, while for children it would be dependent on their age.

People identified as close contacts of a confirmed Covid case are currently required to self-isolate for up to 10 full days when contacted by NHS Test and Trace.

He added that “of course” anyone that tested positive would have to self-isolate whether they have had the jab or not.

Mr Javid said the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps would update MPs this week on how to “remove the need for fully-vaccinated arrivals to isolate when they return from an amber list country”.

Earlier, the health secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he would expect cases numbers by 19 July to be “at least double” what they were now “so around 50,000 new cases a day”.

“As we ease and go into the summer we expect them to rise significantly and they could go as high as 100,000 case numbers,” he added.

Chart showing that the number of cases is now rising again

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Javid had justified allowing infections to climb by pointing to the UK “building a protective wall” of vaccines.

However, Mr Ashworth said the “wall is only part built”, and data from Israel suggested that the infectious Delta variant could be transmitted through fully vaccinated people.

He said he “understood the rationale” for Mr Javid’s announcement but believed that the “biggest barrier to an effective isolation policy” was a “lack of financial incentive to stay at home”.

He also called for a U-turn on the decision to make mask-wearing voluntary, saying: “Yes, let’s have freedom but not a high-risk free-for-all – keep masks for now, fix sick pay, and let’s unlock in a safe and sustainable way.”

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Analysis box by Nick Triggle, health correspondent

The planned relaxation of restrictions on 19 July is essentially an acknowledgement the government is now happy to let Covid spread, in the knowledge the most vulnerable have a good level of protection.

But it is also being done with the expectation that, at some point, cases will begin to plateau as the virus hits the wall of immunity built up by the vaccination programme and natural infection.

That may not happen before we hit 50,000 cases a day, perhaps even 100,000, which of course would mean lots of people having to quarantine because they come into close contact with someone who is infected.

There are already reports of hospitals being short of staff because doctors and nurses are self-isolating because they are classed as a close contact.

And this is being mirrored in workplaces and other settings across the country. If allowed to continue, the country is at risk of grinding to a halt this summer.

For people who have been doubled jabbed, the chances are they will not become infected – the vaccines offer about 80% protection against symptomatic infection.

As always with Covid, it comes down to what is proportionate.

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Prof Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College – whose modelling helped lead to the first nationwide restrictions – said as restrictions eased there was the potential for the UK to have a very large numbers of cases – 150,000 to 200,000 a day – which could “still cause some pressure to the health system”.

However he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that although it was a “slight gamble” he thought it was “justifiable”, adding “I’m reasonably optimistic.”

He said the vaccines would keep deaths far lower than in previous waves. “The ratio which we saw in the past between case numbers and deaths has been reduced by more like eight to 10-fold.”

In the worst-case scenario there “may need to be a course correction later”, he added.

Businesses have given mixed reactions to the prime minister’s latest announcement.

Melvin Benn, chief executive of Festival Republic, which runs the Reading and Leeds festivals, said the government had “got this right”, adding that “the country wants to reopen, we are tired of this, we want to reopen”.

He also said he was not inclined to encourage festival guests to wear masks – even indoors.

However, Jacinta Rowsell, manager of the Westfield shopping centre in London, said staff would still “encourage guests” to wear masks as they wanted people visiting to feel safe.

She added that each retailer in the centre “may implement their own policy” on mask wearing inside their stores.

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Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are in charge of their own coronavirus rules.

The Scottish government has said it may continue to require masks in certain settings even after 9 August, when it is hoped the final curbs will end.

Ahead of a review on 15 July in Wales, ministers said people would need to learn to live with Covid. Rules in Northern Ireland have just eased, with another review due on 8 July.

On Monday, a further 27,334 cases were reported across the UK – and another nine deaths within 28 days of a positive test.

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