Isolation exemption expands to 2000 critical workplaces

26 July 2021, 20:47

Daily lateral flow tests will replace self-isolation for Covid contacts in a growing list of critical workplaces
Daily lateral flow tests will replace self-isolation for Covid contacts in a growing list of critical workplaces. Picture: Alamy

By Daisy Stephens

The government has expanded its list of critical workers who will get daily testing in place of isolation if they are identified as a contact of a positive Covid case.

Workplace daily contact testing sites will be expanded to 2,000 sites across the country, with staff in prisons, waste collection and defence joining those in the food industry, transport, Border Force, frontline police and fire services in being exempt from isolation.

“Whether it’s prison guards reporting for duty, waste collectors keeping our streets clean or workers in our energy sector keeping the lights on, critical workers have been there for us at every stage of this global pandemic,” Health Secretary Sajid Javid said.

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“As we learn to live with the virus, we will keep doing everything in our power to break chains of transmission and stop this virus in its tracks.

“Daily contact testing will play a vital role in this, helping minimise the potential for disruption caused by rising cases, while keeping staff protected.”

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Daily contact testing using rapid lateral flow tests will enable eligible workers who have been told to isolate by the NHS Covid 19 app or NHS Test and Trace to continue working if they test negative each day.

While contacts of Covid cases are at least five times more likely to be infected than other members of the public, new research has shown that daily contact testing may be just as effective at controlling infections in schools as self-isolation.

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Applying this to workplaces may maintain control over transmission of coronavirus whilst reducing disruption due to high numbers of critical workers needing to isolate.

The government has said that organisations eligible for this are being contacted by NHS Test and Trace so they can mobilise sites this week.

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From August 16, the self-isolation rules for the general population are set to change, with double-jabbed people being exempt as long as they test negative.

But food shortages and travel disruption because of high numbers of people being told to self-isolate sparked the need for the government to take action in the interim.

In addition to critical staff working in prisons, defence and waste collection, people working in energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space, fish, veterinary medicine and HMRC will also be prioritised for the 1,200 new daily contact testing sites.

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“Critical workers up and down the country have repeatedly stepped up to the challenge of making sure our key services are delivered and communities are supported,” said Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick.

"We all owe them a huge debt of gratitude and will continue to support them to do their jobs safely and securely.

“This expansion of the daily contact testing centres is vital and hugely welcome.”