Government moves to scrap 10-day quarantine for Covid contacts
By Jane Kirby, PA Health Editor
Matt Hancock has said he plans to scrap the requirement for people who have had two Covid-19 jabs and come into contact with an infected person to isolate for 10 days.
The Health Secretary said the approach is currently being piloted but will be introduced as soon as possible once clinicians have looked at the data.
It came as Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the July 19 date for easing the final restrictions in England is “looking good”, when asked if he would rule out further lockdowns this winter.
“You can never exclude that there will be some new disease, some new horror that we simply haven’t budgeted for, or accounted for,” he told reporters during a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire.
“But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against all variants that we can currently see… I think it’s looking good for July 19 to be that terminus point.”
Under the plan to revise quarantine restrictions, the 10-day isolation period could be axed in favour of daily lateral flow tests.
Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast the approach is being piloted “to check that that will be effective, but it is something that we’re working on”.
He added: “We’re not ready to be able to take that step yet, but it’s something that I want to see and we will introduce, subject to clinical advice, as soon as it’s reasonable to do so.”
Asked whether the remaining restrictions are likely to be lifted before the new England road map date of July 19, Mr Hancock said experts will examine the figures shortly.
He said: “We are looking at the data, and we’ve said that we’ll take a specific look two weeks into the four-week delay that we had to put in place to get more people vaccinated, so we’ll do that.
“But I have every confidence that the more people get vaccinated, the easier it is (and) the safer it is to lift restrictions.
“We had to have the delay in order to get more people vaccinated, especially those second vaccines to protect people, we’re being careful, we’re being cautious.
“But I have a high degree of confidence that this vaccine is going to get us out of this, and the more people who come forward, the easier that will be.”
Turning to NHS waiting times, Mr Hancock said there is a “big and challenging backlog that has been caused by the pandemic” and suggested it could take up to a few years to clear.
He said there are currently 5.1 million people on the waiting list, “but there’s also millions of people who haven’t come forward with a condition that… might have been niggling rather than acutely serious, and they’ve been waiting until the NHS is in a better position to be able to come forward. And so we do expect that number to rise.”
Asked about comments made by one medic that it will take the NHS five to 10 years to get back to normal, Mr Hancock said: “I think we can sort it faster.”
He added: “We’ve been able to make progress against those longest of waits, but this is going to be a big effort, certainly for months, maybe for a couple of years, but we’re determined to sort it faster than that timeframe set out by the orthopaedic consultant in Coventry.”
Elsewhere, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it is “unlikely” that coronavirus restrictions in England will be lifted before July 19.
He told Sky News he does not expect the two-week review to lead to an earlier relaxation of the current measures.
“I would always err on the side of caution and I would look to July 19,” he said. “It could be before but I think that is unlikely. Generally we have stuck to the dates we have set. I think now I am very focused on July 19.”
Mr Johnson had originally set Monday for the end of all legal coronavirus restrictions under his road map to ease England’s lockdown, but delayed so-called Freedom Day until July 19 because of concerns over the rapidly-spreading Delta variant first identified in India.
Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said on Monday that hospital admissions due to Covid are rising but quite slowly.
He told Times Radio: “It’s rising relatively slowly but it’s nowhere near anything like the kind of numbers we’ve had in previous waves.
“In terms of who is coming into hospital, it tends to be younger people, people who haven’t been vaccinated, and it’s very, very few people who’ve had double vaccinations and the chance to have that two- to three-week protection build-up.
“So that’s why we’re continuing to say with increasing optimism that the vaccines have broken the chain between the community infections with Covid-19, and the very high level of hospitalisations that we’ve seen in previous waves.”
However, he said his comments relate to the current variants in the UK, including the Delta variant, and there is a question mark over any future variants.