Monday, 26 Jul 2021

Self-isolation exemption: Which critical workers will be exempt from isolation rules?

Boris Johnson’s isolation U-turn is ‘right decision’ says Ashworth

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Mandatory self-isolation periods are at the centre of much debate across the country particularly from industries criticising the impact this enforced isolation has on businesses. The Prime Minister today said close contacts of a positive case are five times more likely to contract Covid and “continuing sacrifice” would be required. But which critical workers could be exempt from self-isolation rules?

The NHS Covid app pinged a record number of people last week with 530,126 people being advised to isolate for up to 10 days in the week up to July 7.

This represents an increase of almost 50 percent on the week before.

The Department of Health and Social Care said frontline NHS staff will be exempt if pinged for Covid quarantine in exceptional circumstances.

The exemption will only apply in cases where the absence of staff could lead to a “significant risk of harm”.

The move comes after rising staff absences due to the need to self-isolate which is putting unsustainable pressure on health care services.

Some fully vaccinated people in critical roles including NHS and care staff will no longer need to self-isolate if they are a close contact.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi today told MPs the change in isolation rules would come into force shortly in England.

Letters will be sent to eligible individuals to reveal if they qualify for these rules.

Under the current self-isolation rules in England, anyone who is traced as a close contact of a confirmed positive case must isolate for 10 days, whether or not they have received both doses of a vaccine.

Mr Zahawi told MPs self-isolation of positive cases and close contacts remains “one of the most effective tools” to reduce transmission rates.

He said: “However, we recognise there are some very specific circumstances where there would be a serious risk of harm to public welfare if people in critical roles are unable to go to their workplace, like air traffic controllers or train signallers.”

Mr Zahawi added: “So people in those kinds of roles who have received two vaccinations plus two weeks beyond a second vaccine will not need to self-isolate to perform those critical tasks.

“They will, however, have to continue to self-isolate at all other times.

“The people eligible for this will receive personalised letters setting out the steps they must follow.

“This is a sensible and pragmatic step and one that will be used sparingly and responsibly.”

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the exemption on Monday evening as he addressed the nation regarding Freedom Day.

He said the exemption would apply to a “very small number” of critical workers, including healthcare staff, those working in transport roles and in food production.

The PM said: “I want to assure you that we will protect crucial services – including the staffing of our hospitals and care homes, the supplies of food, water, electricity and medicines, the running of our trains, the protection of our borders, the defence of our realm – by making sure that a small number, a very small number, of named, fully-vaccinated critical workers are able to leave their isolation solely for the work that I have described.”

Those not working in critical roles must still self-isolate for 10 days.

BBC analysis published on July 7 suggested more than 4.5 million people could be asked to self-isolate between now and August 16 in England.

This is based upon an estimate of 1.5 million new confirmed cases of Covid in the four weeks after July 19 which would be just above 50,000 cases a day on average.

If three close contacts are identified for each case reported, more than 4.5 million people could be forced to self-isolate in that time.

Last Tuesday, Health Secretary Sajid Javid warned there could be as many as 100,000 cases a day which means this figure could be much higher than 4.5m.

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