People who have received both Covid-19 jabs may soon no longer have to self-isolate for 10 days after having come into contact with a person infected with the virus.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, is said to be pushing for the replacement of self-isolation with daily testing – a policy that may come into effect soon, subject to approval from Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, which will depend on the results of a trial involving 40,000 people, the Times reported.
Linda Bauld, professor of public health at the University of Edinburgh, told Times Radio that the US had already implemented this.
“The Centre for Disease Control changed their guidance a while ago to say that people who had had both doses of the vaccine … about 10-14 days after the second dose didn’t have to self-isolate, so I think we are moving in that direction,” she said.
“As we’ve heard repeatedly from Chris Whitty and others, this virus isn’t going to disappear.
“We’re going to have to live alongside it, [which] means we are going to have infections in future, so being a contact of someone infected will always be a possibility.”
Bauld added there will be discussions on testing children regularly instead of asking large numbers of them to self-isolate.
She said she had been asked whether she thought scrapping 10 days of self-isolation for people who are fully vaccinated could be the government’s way of getting out of providing adequate support to those who are self-isolating.
On Thursday, it emerged that the government had suppressed access to sick pay for people self-isolating after having come into contact with the virus at the height of the pandemic in January and February this year, with emails showing that the Treasury had instructed senior government officials to conceal from the public that a little-known clause of the furlough scheme could enable people to access sick pay while in isolation.
Bauld said: “I hadn’t actually thought of it that way to be perfectly frank. Is this a sort of a reason not to support self-isolation – that may be part of it.
“I think it’s more that as we move ahead and learn to live alongside this virus we have to recognise, not just for adults actually around self-isolation, but there will also be a debate about school pupils and whether we could offer regular testing as an alternative to large groups of children having to stay at home and not have face-to-face education, which of course has been happening quite a bit as infection rates rise and it’s really unfortunate and should be avoidable.”
Bauld emphasised that having both doses of the vaccine is “not a free pass to everything”, and called for a streamlined cross-country approach to rules for international travel.
“We have to make these changes because in order to get back to some kind of normal life – or more normal than we have now – vaccines are going to be that protection, and that means showing, particularly for international travel actually, evidence of a vaccine.
“We need to have a common standard, the way we do for yellow fever, and that will really help with international travel in the future.”
Prof Adam Finn, who advises the government on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), said scrapping 10-day self-isolation for people who had had two jabs and come into contact with people infected with the virus was an “interesting” proposal.
He told Times Radio: “We know that the vaccine, particularly after two doses, is highly effective at stopping you from getting seriously ill, 20 times less likely to end up in hospital.
“We also know that it will reduce your chances of getting milder illness and infecting other people, but it’s probably less good at doing that than it is preventing you getting seriously ill, so it’s a kind of balance of risk thing.”