Covid-19: Matt Hancock hopes to scrap isolation for double-jabbed contacts

The health secretary has said he hopes to exempt fully vaccinated people from the requirement to isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone who has Covid.

A current trial is offering daily rapid testing as an alternative to isolation.

Matt Hancock said the approach would be adopted for people who have had two doses of a coronavirus jab, if the pilot was effective.

The PM said the government was also looking at using it for travellers.

Asked whether ministers were considering allowing double-vaccinated travellers to be exempt from quarantine on their return to the UK if they took daily tests, Boris Johnson told reporters: “When it comes to travel, we’ll certainly be looking at that.

“But I want to stress this is going to be, whatever happens, a difficult year for travel – there will be hassle, there will be delays, I’m afraid, because the priority has got to be to keep the country safe and to stop the virus coming back in.”

Currently, people arriving in the UK from a country on the government’s amber list must quarantine for 10 days – regardless of whether they have had a coronavirus jab.

However, in England an individual may be able to end their quarantine period early if they pay for an additional test under the test-to-release scheme.

  • How does the test-and-trace system work?
  • Who has to self-isolate?
  • What are the rules for travelling abroad?

Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast the government was piloting daily tests as an alternative to isolation for people who come into contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid.

“We’re piloting that now to check that will be effective and it is something that we’re working on,” the health secretary said.

“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.”

As part of a study by Public Health England and NHS Test and Trace, launched in May, as many as 40,000 people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid will be given daily tests to gather evidence on alternatives to self-isolation.

Instead contacts will be required to test themselves with a rapid lateral flow test every morning for seven days – and will be allowed to leave their home if they test negative.

The trial is not expected to be completed until later in the summer.

“But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against
all variants that we can currently see – so Alpha, Delta, the lot of them, Kappa – I think it’s looking good for 19 July to be that terminus point.”

Currently, anybody who has been told by NHS Test and Trace that they are a contact of somebody who has tested positive for the virus must self-isolate for 10 days.

This means not leaving home at all – even to buy food or medicines, or for exercise.

The rule applies to people regardless of whether they have received a coronavirus jab.

So far, nearly 60% of UK adults have had two doses of the vaccine, meaning they are fully vaccinated, and more than four in five adults have had their first dose.

More than one million jabs were booked on Friday and Saturday in England, after vaccinations opened to all over-18s.


Boris Johnson at a laboratory in Hertfordshire

image copyrightReuters

Meanwhile, the prime minister said plans to ease Covid restrictions in England on 19 July were “looking good”.

Speaking on a visit to a laboratory in Hertfordshire, Mr Johnson said: “At the moment it still looks to me as though 19 July is a terminus point.”

Asked whether he could rule out further lockdowns this winter, he said: “You can never exclude that there will be some new disease, some new horror that we simply haven’t budgeted for, or accounted for.

“But looking at where we are, looking at the efficacy of the vaccines against all variants that we can currently see – so Alpha, Delta, the lot of them, Kappa – I think it’s looking good for 19 July to be that terminus point.”

The original date the government had planned to remove all legal limits on social contact in England was 21 June – but this has been delayed to allow more people to be vaccinated.

However, some restrictions have still been eased.

The number of guests at a wedding is no longer limited to 30 (although there are capacity rules depending on a venue’s size), visiting arrangements for care homes are changing, children can go on overnight trips in groups of 30, and pilots of large events like Euro 2020 games will continue.

And in Wales, rules are also being lifted slightly, including capacity restrictions for music and comedy and the limits on weddings changing in line with a venue’s size.

In Northern Ireland, a planned easing of restrictions has been pushed back to at least 5 July, and current rules in Scotland are expected to be extended until mid-July.

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