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1m people in Covid isolation, says Gillian Keegan, as pressure grows on workforce

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Around one million people are currently self isolating with Covid-19, the health minister Gillian Keegan has said, as the Government comes under pressure to relax testing rules to ease crippling staff shortages in critical sectors.

Hospitals, rail operators and other crucial public services are coming under severe pressure as staff who have tested positive for coronavirus are forced to isolate.

NHS trusts have been declaring critical incidents and hospitals in Greater Manchester said they will pause some “non-urgent” surgery over the “rising impact” of Covid-19 and staffing shortages.

The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that ministers are now preparing to change the testing rules to allow those who test positive with lateral flow tests to start their isolation period immediately instead of waiting for the result of a confirmatory PCR test.

The move would allow those who do test positive to start their isolation period straight away thereby reducing the amount of time they are off work. Under current rules, those who test positive are supposed to isolate for 10 days although they can be released from quarantine earlier if they produce two negative test results on days six and seven of their isolation period.

Underlining the extent of the problem facing the UK’s workforce, Ms Keegan said the Government estimated “around one million” people were currently self isolating.

She told Sky News: “We don’t collect that data on a daily basis but it’s obvious if you look at the number of people who tested positive yesterday - about 215,000, they’ll all be self isolating...it’s probably about a million people self isolating right now.“

Pressed on why she wasn’t able to provide more precise data, the minister added: “You get tested positive and we add those up over the days - what you don’t know is how many people after days six and seven have tested negative and are free to leave isolation - it’s around about a million people though.”

Announcing plans to stick to the current Plan B measures to tackle the wave of the Omicron variant, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday that from next week 100,000 critical workers would be offered daily lateral flow tests.

Ms Keegan said the testing kits will be sent directly to the critical workplaces identified by the Government which she confirmed would include fire, police, emergency services, border force, testing lab staff, food processing and some elements of the transport sector.

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