‘Minimal’ risk in cutting Covid isolation to 5 days, study finds

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Cutting the Covid self-isolation period from seven to five days to help key workers return to the front line can be done with “minimal risk”, London researchers suggest.

The study came as NHS leaders called on the Government to consider adopting five-day isolation periods already in use in the US and France to cope with the staffing crisis caused by Omicron.

Modelling experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, working with colleagues in South Africa, examined the feasibility of shorter isolation periods to avoid people being off work when they were no longer infectious.

They said the standard 10-day isolation period – which was cut to seven days in England last month under the “test to release” initiative – “may lead to excess work force absences or substantial under-compliance with testing to avoid absences”.

The research, which is awaiting peer review, indicated a “very low risk” associated with reducing the period to seven days, and said this could be further reduced to three or five days, followed by daily testing until receiving two consecutive days of negative results.

The paper said: “For professions facing critical staffing shortages, shorter isolations with fewer days of negative tests to release may be considered with a small increase in risk.

“Shortening the isolation period for [Covid] carries minimal risk which can be reduced further by requiring consecutive negative lateral flow tests to release.”

With more than 4,000 Covid patients in London hospitals and more than 17,000 across the UK, the NHS Confederation said urgent measures should be considered to ease pressure.

However, it said the isolation period should only be cut if there was “clear evidence” of no increased risk to patients.

Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the NHS Confederation, said: “It’s clear that we are facing a staffing crisis in the NHS, with a number of hospitals telling us they have around 10 per cent of their staff in self-isolation or on sick leave for other reasons.

“The Government now needs to do all it can to mobilise more staff and other resources for the NHS to get through this extremely challenging period.

“We also think there is merit in continuing to review the self-isolation period to see if the evidence supports a halving of the period to five days. We also need other short-term measures, including deploying medical students on wards and taking other steps to cover rota gaps.”

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