Do you have to isolate with Covid? The rules explained

Revised guidance means public no longer legally required to enter quarantine

Joe Sommerlad
Monday 21 March 2022 11:12
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Living with long Covid: The UK's next health crisis

In the most recent revision to England’s rules for combatting the coronavirus, Boris Johnson’s government has announced that those who test positive for Covid-19 are no longer legally required to self-isolate, although it is still recommended for the protection of others.

As of 24 February 2022, the previous requirement that the unwell quarantine for at least five days and only emerge after testing negative twice thereafter was scrapped, bringing an end to Britain’s last social restrictions in response to the pandemic.

Before the pivot to the goverment’s more pragmatic “Living with Covid” policy, placing responsibility with individuals rather than the state, health secertary Sajid Javid had cut the self-isolation period from seven days to five as the Omicron wave of infections that hit the UK in December and spiked over the New Year fortunately failed to translate into the mass hospitalisations feared.

The change to the law brought in late last month also marked the end of £500 per month self-isolation support payments for people on low incomes and routine contact tracing and meant that employees no longer have to notify their bosses that they must go into quarantine or that their close contacts were no longer required to undertake daily testing.

The Labour Party and a number of scientific experts protested the decision as premature and the recent abandoment of face masks and social distancing has indeed lead to a gradual but steady rise in Covid cases in early March.

The government reported that 399,820 people had tested positive within the last seven days on 11 March, a rise of 56.3 per cent week-on-week.

Meanwhile, new sub-variants of Covid continue to be identified, including one known as Omicron BA.2 (or “Deltacron”), which former World Health Organisation epidemiologist Professor Adrian Esterman has warned is almost as infectious as measles.

Asked abour whether the new variant posed a threat, Mr Javid said: “There are variants that we would obviously keep under review. The most recent one of concern has been Omicron but we have successfully navigated our way through that as a country thanks to the response of the British people.

“There are also so-called subvariants of Omicron and we’re not concerned about any of those at this important time. We keep it under review but we have no concerns at all.”

With the eyes of the world understandably on the war in Ukraine, these are timely reminders that the pandemic is still not entirely over.

If you do believe you have contracted coronavirus symptoms, you should still take a lateral flow test and be prepared to self-isolate to prevent passing the virus on to others, although, as per the new guidance, doing so is no longer mandatory.

Likewise, while masks are no longer mandated in most settings, it is still advisable to wear one in crowded public spaces in order to limit your risk of exposure to infection and prevent others from contracting it from you, should you be carrying it unknowingly.

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