Self-isolation 'can be HALVED'

Covid self-isolation sentence could be HALVED to just five days because only 2% of virus transmission occurs after then, study claims

  • 98 per cent of all Covid transmission happens within five days of symptom onset 
  • The findings could half self-isolation times from 10 to five days 
  • An expert said self- isolating benefits do not outweigh negatives in some cases

Britain’s Covid’s self-isolation sentence could be halved to just five days, academics say.

Under current rules designed to curb the spread of the virus, infected people must quarantine at home for 10 days. 

But data suggests 98 per cent of transmission occurs either before people become ill, or within five days of symptoms starting.

Scientists believe the UK’s isolation period ‘could be much shorter’ for anyone who gets infected.

Similar findings led No10 to tweak the NHS app earlier this week, it was claimed. 

The software — blamed for triggering the ‘pingdemic’ chaos — now only tells people to quarantine if they were in contact with an asymptomatic infected person two days before they tested positive, rather than five. 

A record 1.5million people were asked to self-isolate to thwart the spread of coronavirus for the week to July 21, official data revealed today as England’s ‘pingdemic’ chaos continues to rage on.

NHS figures show nearly 690,000 alerts were sent out by the NHS app last week — the most since the voluntary software was introduced. 

A further 536,000 people were reached by Test and Trace call handlers and ordered to quarantine at home, while 308,000 were told to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid.

The damning statistics come as Boris Johnson continues to face heavy criticism for refusing to ditch the isolation rules until August 16, despite lifting restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’.

Millions of workers haven’t been able to do their jobs because they’ve been told to isolate, leaving supermarket shelves empty, pubs and restaurants shut, and trains cancelled across the country.

One of the Government’s scientific advisers said the quarantine rules that have fuelled the pingdemic and caused ‘massive problems’ to the economy, schools and everyday life are unnecessary and should have been scrapped six months ago.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick acknowledged the system is ‘frustrating’ but urged people to keep isolating if they are pinged.

Fresh data from Oxford University’s Pathogen Dynamics Group shows up to 40 per cent of transmission occurs before symptoms emerge.

But most of this happens during the two days before people fall ill, which prompted the alteration of how the NHS Covid app works. 

Around 35 per cent of transmission occurs within the first two days of people having symptoms.

However, the data came from September — before the highly-infectious Delta variant took off.

Ministers are keen to replace quarantine rules with daily testing, with scientists now investigating if it is safe to make the drastic move. 

Dr Muge Cevik, an infectious disease expert at the University of St Andrews, told the Telegraph: ‘Given most transmission happens very early on, the isolation period could be much shorter for the cases. 

‘Viral load peaks pretty quickly, so people are highly infectious within the first few days.

‘Also importantly, many people have non-specific mild symptoms before developing more noticeable ones, like fatigue or myalgia, so that’s probably when people are highly infectious too but continue daily activity.

‘So, the current self-isolation guidelines, especially given the lack of support provided for sick leave, does not serve for the purpose.’

The drop off in transmission could also be down to symptomatic people adhering to self-isolation rules. 

But Dr Cevik was behind research last November which found people were most infectious within the first five days of having symptoms.  

France, Germany and the US have already cut their quarantine period after reaching similar findings, with people in those countries isolating for just five to seven days.

Anyone who breaches Britain’s 10-day isolation law can be fined up to £10,000. First-time offenders can get a £1,000 penalty.

But the findings don’t offer any hope curbing self-isolation times for close contacts of the infected. 

This is because people are ‘pinged’ as soon as someone tests positive, meaning it may take several days for them to develop symptoms. 

However, latest figures from the Oxford scientists also revealed that just 15 per cent of people pinged test positive for the virus.

It comes as 1.5million self-isolation alerts were sent out last week either through the NHS or due to a positive test result.  

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told the Telegraph: ‘Having to quarantine for a one per cent risk is marginal, in my view – 100 people have to quarantine for every case transmission.

‘Given the state that we are at now, the benefits of quarantining for relatively casual contact do not justify the negative impact, in my view. 

‘But if you are positive, still self-isolate and if you live with someone who is positive, still quarantine.’

In an attempt to fix the pingdemic chaos, ministers have already announced fully-vaccinated people who are told to self-isolate either by the app or Test and Trace will no longer have to do so from August 16. 

But No10 is under pressure to bring this date forward to the end of this week in order to be in line with Wales.

Supermarket shelves have been left empty as a result of the chaos, while trains have been cancelled due to a lack of staff and one in ten pubs and restaurants have been forced to shut temporarily.

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