The government in England has reduced the number of days for coronavirus self-isolation from seven to five in a move that could herald a further relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions.
In a change to guidance from Monday, people can leave quarantine after five full days, so long as they test negative on days five and six. Under isolation rules, the day symptoms begin or people test positive is day zero and the next day is day one of the isolation period.
Ministers had been under pressure to reduce the isolation period to help address staff shortages by allowing people to return to work earlier.
“Following a robust review of the evidence, we have reduced the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England," Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.
“This is a balanced and proportionate approach to restore extra freedoms and reduce the pressure on essential public services over the winter.
“It is crucial people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to ensure you are not infectious.”
No 10 Downing Street will conduct a review of the current set of coronavirus restrictions, including mask wearing and work-from-home guidance, which are set to expire on January 26.
The Plan B measures were introduced in England on December 10 after a surge in cases caused by the Omicron variant, and masks were reintroduced as compulsory in most public indoor venues.
Vaccine certificates became a requirement for venues with large crowds, such as nightclubs and at sporting events and Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged people to work from home where possible.
The prime minister has repeatedly said ministers will be guided by the science and that he would introduced further restrictions only if they are deemed necessary to protect public health and the National Health Service.
The UK continues to see a significant drop in infections after a peak of more than 200,000 new cases per day this month, which indicates additional restrictions are unlikely.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi on Monday said it was “looking positive” that Plan B measures could be lifted on January 26.
“If you look at infection rates, they remain high, hospitalisation is still high, touching 20,000 people in hospital, but it feels like they’re plateauing,” he told BBC Breakfast.
“The good news is the number of people in ICU has been coming down, certainly in London, which was the epicentre, the level of staff absence in education has remained pretty flat – it was 8 per cent before Christmas, it’s at about 8.5 per cent at the moment.
“So I’m confident that when we review this on January 26, as we said we would do, then we’ll be in a much better place to lift some of these restrictions.”
The latest data shows a 38 per cent drop over the last seven days in the numbers testing positive for Covid-19, with 70,924 new cases reported on Sunday.
The government said research showed that between 20 per cent and 30 per cent of people are still infectious by day six, but the percentage of those released while infectious falls to around 7 per cent if people have two consecutive negative tests then leave isolation on day six.
Meanwhile, all 16 and 17 year olds in England can get their boosters from Monday.