Coronavirus: Self-isolation for people with symptoms increased from seven to 10 days, UK’s chief medical officers announce

Unions warn move will increase financial hardship – and call for increase to sick pay to help self-isolators

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 30 July 2020 10:59 BST
Coronavirus in numbers

The government is facing renewed demands for improvements to statutory sick pay after announcing an extension from seven to 10 days in the period of self-isolation for people who have symptoms or test positive for Covid-19.

The move – which is effective immediately and covers the whole country – brings the UK in line with the World Health Organisation’s recommendation of 10-day minimum isolation and with rules in many other countries including Australia, South Africa and Switzerland.

But Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress, said it would mean more hardship for those forced to stay at home, and repeated her call for sick pay to be raised to the £320-a-week level of the real living wage.

“We all want to reduce the spread of Covid-19, but the government’s plan to extend self-isolation has a huge flaw,” said Ms O’Grady.

“Asking people to self-isolate is not going to work if they are plunged into financial hardship.

“Ministers must raise statutory sick pay from £95 per week to at least the level of the real living wage of £320 per week. And ensure that everyone is eligible for it.”

Experts believe that the extra three days of isolation will reduce the danger of spreading the virus, but they stressed that anyone whose symptoms persist beyond 10 days should continue to stay away from other people in case they are still contagious.

It is understood that authorities are not expecting the change to lead to a sharp increase in individuals confined at home, as the availability of testing means that anyone suspecting they have coronavirus can now quickly establish whether they have the disease, with negative tests allowing them to cease self-isolation immediately.

The change in advice is not understood to have been driven by any new scientific breakthrough, but to be a response to emerging evidence that contagiousness can linger up to nine days after symptoms manifest themselves, as well as to the lifting of lockdown restrictions which has made it possible for people to mingle more outside their homes.

It comes as concern grows about the possibility of a second wave of Covid infections as more people come into close contact with one another due to the reopening of workplaces, shops, restaurants and pubs.

In a joint statement, the chief medical officers of the four nations of the UK said: “In symptomatic people Covid-19 is most infectious just before and for the first few days after symptoms begin. It is very important people with symptoms self-isolate and get a test, which will allow contact tracing.

“Evidence, although still limited, has strengthened and shows that people with Covid-19 who are mildly ill and are recovering have a low but real possibility of infectiousness between seven and nine days after illness onset.

“We have considered how best to target interventions to reduce risk to the general population and consider that at this point in the epidemic, with widespread and rapid testing available and considering the relaxation of other measures, it is now the correct balance of risk to extend the self-isolation period from seven to 10 days for those in the community who have symptoms or a positive test result.

“This will help provide additional protection to others in the community. This is particularly important to protect those who have been shielding and in advance of the autumn and winter when we may see increased community transmission.”

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