Self-isolation for Covid contacts could be scrapped under major new trial

2 May 2021, 00:01 | Updated: 2 May 2021, 07:53

  • Daily testing to replace quarantine in trial of 40,000 people
Daily lateral flow tests will be given to as many as 40,000 people as part of the study
Daily lateral flow tests will be given to as many as 40,000 people as part of the study. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

People who come into contact with someone who tests positive for coronavirus may no longer be required to self-isolate as part of a major new trial that uses rapid testing instead.

Daily lateral flow tests will be given to as many as 40,000 people who have a positive Covid-19 contact in the Government-backed research announced on Sunday.

Instead of the 10 days of quarantine currently required, the participants will be sent a week's worth of tests and will be able to go about their lives as before, as long as the results are negative.

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The trial across England may provide greater evidence to reduce the length of time contacts of positive cases need to isolate, under efforts to restart social lives and reopen the economy.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock said: "This new pilot could help shift the dial in our favour by offering a viable alternative to self-isolation for people who are contacts of positive Covid-19 cases, and one that would allow people to carry on going to work and living their lives."

Beginning on May 9, close contacts of people with Covid-19 will be contacted by phone and sent seven days of rapid tests if they wish to participate.

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They will have to test themselves every morning for seven days and will be exempt from the legal requirement to quarantine at home every day they test negative, as long as they do not exhibit symptoms.

Professor Isabel Oliver, who is leading the study as Public Health England's national infection service director, said it will be key to informing how "the approach to testing might evolve".

"This study will help to determine whether we can deploy daily testing for contacts to potentially reduce the need for self-isolation, while still ensuring that chains of transmission are stopped," she said.

"Contacts of cases are at higher risk of infection so testing them is a very effective way of preventing further spread."

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A document for the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) released on Friday detailed an earlier pilot of 1,370 close contacts using testing as an alternative to isolation.

Running between December and January, the uptake of daily testing was 62%, but the group found that this was lower among people from ethnic minority groups.

"Overall, our data suggested that daily testing has the potential to be a feasible and acceptable alternative to self-isolation," the researchers said.

"However, there is a need to develop materials and campaigns to explain the rationale and procedures and address concerns, especially among BAME communities."