Coronavirus: Self-isolation rules changed as government scientists say people may be infectious longer than seven days
Those who have come into contact with someone with COVID-19 will still have to stay at home for the same period – 14 days.
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Scientists believe there is a “real possibility” people with coronavirus are infectious for longer than previously thought, so the government is extending the self-isolation period from seven to 10 days.
The chief medical officers of all four UK nations made the change as the country braces for winter and warnings of a “second wave” of COVID-19 brewing in Europe.
They said evidence – while limited – “has strengthened” to show people with the virus “have a low but real possibility of infectiousness” for up to nine days after catching it.
Extending self-isolating will “help provide additional protection to others in the community”, the group said in a statement.
“This is particularly important to protect those who have been shielding and in advance of the autumn and winter when we may see increased community transmission,” they added.
Earlier, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he was “worried” about a second wave, telling Sky News there was a “second wave starting to roll across Europe” and warned the UK must “do everything to prevent it reaching these shores”.
“It’s something I worry about and I worry about it because we can see it coming,” he said.
Why talk of a 'second wave' of COVID-19 may be premature
Those who have come into close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will still have to stay at home for the same amount of time – 14 days.
Up until now, if you had a new and continuous cough, fever or change or loss in taste or smell, you only had to isolate for a week.
Asked about data that suggests the R rate is above the crucial number of one in the South East and South West, Mr Hancock said he would not “prejudge” as there will be more statistics published tomorrow.
The R rate is at 1.02 in the South East and 1.04 in the South West, according to University of Cambridge researchers.
Mr Hancock has admitted that the decrease in coronavirus cases in the UK has “flattened off”.
Meanwhile, new research suggests one in every 14 Britons has already been infected with the virus.
The Oxford University study of more than 20,000 people indicated that 7.1% of the population have coronavirus antibodies, which appear in someone’s blood after they are infected.
While ministers are increasing isolation times for people with symptoms, the Daily Telegraph reports they are trying to reduce the 14-day quarantine for travellers coming back to the UK from “high risk” countries.
On Tuesday the prime minister did not rule out cutting returning travellers’ self-quarantine to 10 days.
He said: “We are always looking at ways in which we can mitigate the impact of the quarantine, try to help people, try to make sure that the science is working to help travellers and holidaymakers.”
Mr Hancock said the government is “doing some work” on the idea and added: “We are always looking at how we can have the least possible burden.”
But after he suddenly imposed a 14-day quarantine for people flying back from Spain this week, Mr Johnson added: “At the moment you have got to stick with the guidance that we are giving, we have given the guidance now about Spain and about some other places around the world.”
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised against all non-essential travel to Spain, including the Balearic and Canary Islands, after it suffered an increase in cases.
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The decision has sparked outrage among Britons already on holiday there and across the country’s tourism industry.
But the PM has cautioned there are already signs of a potential second wave in Europe, with Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who is beginning his fortnight at home after returning from Spain, adding: “We had to act when we did.”
The move to increase symptomatic people’s self-isolation could be down to health leaders’ concerns of a second spike heading for the UK.
NHS Confederation chief executive Niall Dickson said another wave, along with “exhausted staff” while the health service tries to rebuild services, could prove “challenging”.
He told the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on coronavirus: “I would say in relation to the second spike issue or something coming, the levels of concern among our members – the people who are leading NHS trusts, who are leading in primary care and all levels in the systems – is very high.
“There’s real concern about winter and the compounding factors there, but also about an earlier spike.”