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- Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
Boris Johnson will cut the time Covid-19 cases have to spend in self-isolation if scientists recommend a reduction.
The Prime Minister said he would “act according to the science” on potentially reducing the time period to five days, a measure which could help deal with staff absences across the economy and public services.
The period has already been cut from 10 days to seven, as long as the person in isolation has negative lateral flow test results, and Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said “if it is possible to go further then we will do so”.
The UK Health Security Agency is leading work on the issue along with the Government’s Covid taskforce based in the Cabinet Office.
Mr Johnson said: “The thing to do is to look at the science. We are looking at that and we will act according to the science.”
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is among ministers keen on the economic benefits of reducing the period to five days, according to the Daily Telegraph, while Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has suggested the move could help ease staffing problems.
The United States’ CDC health protection agency cut the recommended isolation period there to five days in December.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “If it is possible to go further, we’d want to act quickly but it needs to be based on the latest evidence and that work is still ongoing.
“We certainly haven’t received any further updated advice.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – who is self-isolating after testing positive for Covid-19 last week – said he would back a reduction in the time period if the evidence supported it.
“If the scientists and the medical experts say that it is safe to reduce the period of self-isolation then I would be inclined to support it,” he said.
Mr Johnson also pledged that free lateral flow tests would be available for “as long as it is necessary” as ministers considered how to move to a position of living with Covid-19.
The Government’s plan for dealing with Covid-19 over the autumn and winter had indicated that at some stage universal free provision of lateral flow devices will end.
The Prime Minister’s spokesman said it was “too early to say” when it will be right to consider a different approach given the extremely high prevalence of the virus currently.
The Prime Minister is under pressure from Tory MPs to commit to ending restrictions as part of a strategy to live with Covid, with the virus treated in a similar way to other illnesses which do not require state interventions.
But Mr Johnson said the NHS was “still under a lot of pressure” as a result of the Omicron-driven wave of cases.
A further 141,472 cases were announced on Sunday, the fifth consecutive fall, however, this number should be treated with caution as reports often drop on the weekend.
The most recent UK-wide figures from January 6 showed 18,454 people were in hospital with Covid-19, with 868 requiring ventilation.
Cabinet minister Michael Gove acknowledged there would still be “difficult weeks ahead” with the NHS facing real pressure, and it was not yet possible to say the current wave was abating.
The Levelling Up Secretary, who was one of the voices around the Cabinet table arguing for tougher measures when Omicron emerged, said the easing of restrictions would have to be guided by science, but “the sooner the better”.
Mr Gove told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live, viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.
“So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions and, I think for all of us, the sooner, the better.”
The current Plan B measures in England, including guidance to work from home where possible and the widespread use of face coverings, are set to be reviewed on January 26.
Former Tory chief whip Mark Harper, leader of the Covid Recovery Group of Conservatives, warned that if Mr Johnson sought to extend the measures he could face a revolt even larger than the 100 Conservatives who defied him when they were first introduced in December.
Mr Harper said: “The Prime Minister sort of wants to agree with us on the backbenches, that we have to be realistic about living with Covid forever… then he says he wants to keep restrictions in reserve or won’t rule them out.
“This is becoming an unsustainable position.”