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The Chancellor is said to be among Cabinet ministers putting pressure on Boris Johnson to cut the isolation period from seven days to help reduce staffing shortages in the NHS and schools, the Telegraph reports.
The health service has come under strain in the past month amid a huge wave of infections driven by the Omicron variant, prompting mass staff shortages as employees self-isolate.
A string of Cabinet ministers–including Mr Sunak, Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi and Transport Secretary Grant Shapps –support cutting the isolation period to five days to ease staff shortages, the newspaper reported. A government source claimed around 60 per cent of the Cabinet were now in favour of the move.
Mr Zahawi became the first minister to publicly endorse the move on Sunday, telling Sky News it would “certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others”.
He told the BBC’s Sunday Morning show that staff absenteeism was around 8.5 per cent last week but “will increase, no doubt, because now schools are back we’re going to see an increase in infection rates”.
Mr Zahawi added: “I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five, six, seven, 10 years.”
The move would mark yet another departure from policies used by the UK’s other nations. Scottish Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said Holyrood was not considering cutting the isolation period due to the “risk” attached.
“It’s just that we wanted time to consider whether or not we would, inadvertently, for example, accelerate the transmission of the virus by cutting that isolation period,” he said on Sunday.
Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove on Monday said the decision would be up to the Health Secretary and the Prime Minister, stressing they would be “guided by the science”.
The US government recently announced the self-isolation window would be cut to five days amid widespread staff shortages.
Modelling experts at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, working with colleagues in South Africa, last week claimed the move could be done with “minimal risk”.
Their 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.