Health

UK minister backs reduced COVID isolation period to ease workforce pressures

The omicron
variant is still spreading in Britain and many businesses, schools and
hospitals are struggling with staff shortages, fuelling calls for the rules on
isolation after a positive test to be reduced further.

Last month,
health authorities in the United States shortened the recommended isolation
time for asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 to five days from the previous guidance
of 10 days.

“I
would obviously always defer to the scientific advice on this. It would
certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce
and others,” Zahawi told Sky News after being asked whether he backed a
move to five days.

He said the
UK Health Security Agency was reviewing the length of the isolation period and
the government was doing all it could to make sure the stretched health service
could operate during what he called “a rocky few weeks”.

Teacher absences
in schools stood at 8.5 percent and could rise further, he said, adding his
department was drafting contingency plans for absenteeism of up to 25 percent,
including asking retired teachers to help out.

On Saturday,
Britain’s official death toll in the pandemic rose above 150,000, following a
record wave of cases caused by the omicron variant, prompting Prime Minister
Boris Johnson to renew his call for people to get vaccinated.

But David
Spiegelhalter, an expert in statistics, told Times radio that level had been
breached in March 2021 when using a broader measure which records cases where
COVID-19 appears on a death certificate and using that measure the number now
stands at more than 173,000.

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Looking
forward, Zahawi said he hoped Britain would become one of the first countries
to learn to “live with” COVID.

“I hope
we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you
transition from pandemic to endemic,” he said.

Zahawi, who
was Britain’s vaccine minister before being appointed education secretary, said
he did not recognise a report in the Sunday Times that the government was
planning to end the free mass supply of lateral flow tests.

Reuters
reported in October that the government was aiming to be ready to start
charging for some previously free COVID tests to try to rein in spending.

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