UK drops self-isolation rules for children and fully vaccinated Covid contacts

Changes from August 16 mean thousands won't have to stay at home

People in England who are close contacts of a positive Covid-19 case will no longer have to isolate if they are fully vaccinated. Getty
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Schoolchildren in England will no longer be sent home if one of their classmates tests positive for Covid-19, while fully vaccinated people will also be exempt from self-isolation requirements, UK ministers have announced.

The changes, to take effect from August 16, mean thousands of children who are grouped in "bubbles" with other pupils can still attend school if someone in their class tests positive.

More than 640,000 pupils in England were not in school because of Covid last week, up from 375,000 the week before.

Of these, only 62,000 were confirmed or suspected Covid cases.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said pupils would only need to isolate if they tested positive for the virus. The current system was "causing disruption" to children's education, he said.

Staggered start times will also be dropped as part of the new plans.

"What I want to see is these restrictions, including bubbles, removed as quickly as possible, along with wider restrictions in society," Mr Williamson told the House of Commons on Tuesday.

"We expect to be able to confirm plans to lift restrictions and bubbles as part of step four [of the roadmap out of lockdown]."

Meanwhile, Health Secretary Sajid Javid announced that those who are double vaccinated and children will not be forced to self-isolate from August 16 if they come into contact with a positive Covid case.

He said data suggested both doses of a Covid-19 vaccine can reduce symptomatic infection by almost 80 per cent.

But if the vaccinated person tests positive they would have to self-isolate. Children, who are not routinely vaccinated against Covid-19 in Britain, would also have to isolate.

People must wait two weeks after their second Covid shot to be exempt from mandatory isolation and anyone who is deemed a close contact of a positive case is required to stay at home for 10 days.

The rule change comes a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his intention to remove the remaining lockdown restrictions by July 19 despite the increasing infection rate.

But Mr Javid said protection afforded by the distribution of vaccines meant "the odds had shifted in our favour".

"Step by step, jab by jab, we are replacing the temporary protection of the restrictions with the long-term protection of the vaccine so we can restore the freedoms which we cherish and the experiences which mean so much for us all," he said.

He said the government would still advise fully vaccinated close contacts of positive Covid-19 cases to take a PCR test as soon as possible.

"And of course, anyone that tests positive will have to self-isolate whether they have had the jab or not," he said.

The self-isolation rule has been criticised by businesses and MPs who argue double-vaccinated people should be treated differently.

On Monday, the Duchess of Cambridge received a self-isolation alert after attending the Wimbledon tennis championships.

Mr Javid said the NHS Test and Trace programme would be altered to become more flexible.

"This new approach means that we can manage the virus in a way that is proportionate to the pandemic while maintaining the freedoms that are so important to us all," he said.

Earlier, the health secretary said that daily cases could reach 100,000 later in the summer.

"I fully understand why many people will be anxious and want to be cautious, and that is why other protections remain in place but the vaccines are working," he said.

“We can't live in a world where the only thing we are thinking about is Covid and not about all the other health problems, not about our economic problems, or education challenges, and we have to make use of a vaccine that is thankfully working."

Updated: July 06, 2021, 1:45 PM