No need for fully-jabbed Covid contacts to isolate from Monday, confirms Javid

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Fully vaccinated people in England will no longer be legally required to self-isolate upon contact with a positive Covid case from Monday, and will instead be advised to take a PCR test – in a marked shift from rules that have led to more than 14m instructions to stay at home.

Ministers have confirmed that the legal requirement to isolate will be replaced with non-binding advice to take a test for the double-jabbed, as well as those 18 and under. And those who do come into contact with the infected will not be told to isolate while waiting for their results. For people who do test positive, isolation will continue.

The health secretary, Sajid Javid, said on Wednesday night that the government was able to go ahead with the decision to exempt the fully vaccinated from isolation rules on Monday 16 August, as planned, because “getting two doses of a vaccine has tipped the odds in our favour and allowed us to safely reclaim our lost freedoms”.

Although Boris Johnson was under pressure from business to bring forward the 16 August date, because of disruption caused by the “pingdemic”, he said last month that timetable was “nailed on” and there was no likelihood of it being moved.

But when the details were announced on Wednesday night, they were less restrictive than they might have been. The fully vaccinated and over-18s will only be advised to get a PCR test if they are a close contact of a positive case, not required to, and they will not be expected to isolate while they await the results of the test.

And, for young people, in practice the cut-off point will be 18 years and six months, because people turning 18 will be exempt from isolation for another six months to allow them time to get fully vaccinated.

The new regime should also end the mass disruption of schooling when pupils return to class next month because it will allow the “bubbles” system – that contributed to almost a quarter of pupils being out of school for Covid-related reasons by the end of the summer term – to be abandoned.

According to the official data, there have been more than 9m calls to people since the pandemic began from the English test-and-trace service telling them that they must isolate. Until now, this has been a legal requirement.

There have also been more than 5m alerts sent by the Covid app in England telling people they should isolate for the same reason, although these “pings” have not been legally binding for the recipients.

People who can prove they cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will also be exempt from isolation rules. And anyone who was told before 16 August to go into isolation, with their isolation period due to end after 16 August, will instead be able to leave isolation from Monday.

Because people who have been fully vaccinated can still get infected, if they have been in contact with someone testing positive, they will be advised to take precautions like wearing masks in enclosed spaces, and limiting contact with others, especially clinically extremely vulnerable people.

Health and social care workers who are close contacts of a positive case will be allowed to return to work after a negative PCR test, but they will have to take daily lateral flow tests as a precaution.

The government is continuing to set up workplace testing centres so that workers doing critical jobs who are not fully vaccinated can use daily testing as an alternative to isolation.

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