A Pharmacist prepares to give a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccine centre set up at an Odeon cinema complex in Maidstone, southeast England
A Pharmacist prepares to give a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford Covid-19 vaccine at a temporary vaccine centre set up at an Odeon cinema complex in Maidstone, southeast England
AFP

The UK government on Tuesday laid out plans to end the compulsory 10-day self-isolation for people who come in contact with a COVID positive case for those fully vaccinated against coronavirus with both doses of a vaccine.

UK Health Secretary Sajid Javid told the House of Commons said the policy would come in from August 16 and will also apply to anyone under the age of 18, currently not eligible for jabs.

Under the new regime, anyone who comes in contact with a COVID-positive case would be expected to take a PCR test soon after being informed about it by the National Health Service (NHS) Test and Trace system.

"From the 16th August, when even more people will have the protection of both doses and when modelling suggests that the risks from the virus will be even lower, anyone who is a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been fully vaccinated," Javid told MPs.

"If someone gets their second dose just before or just after the 16th of August, they would need to wait two weeks after which their second jab can take effect and give them these new freedoms. As we make this change, we will be drawing on the huge capacity we have built for testing and sequencing and advising close contacts who are fully vaccinated to take a PCR test as soon as possible so they can get certainty about their condition," the minister said.

The announcement was followed by another Commons statement by UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to confirm an end to the so-called "bubble" system in schools, which has led to large numbers of pupils being sent home if a single child has a positive test.

UK Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will update Parliament later this week on removing the need for fully-vaccinated international travellers to isolate themselves when they return from an amber list or medium virus risk country.

Currently, they are required to self-isolate in their homes for 10 days on their return, with a 10-day compulsory quarantine in place for red list or high risk virus countries - which currently includes India.

The changes for the schools system will come in from July 19, the date UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday as the timeline for an end of all legal lockdown restrictions such as work from home where possible, one-metre plus social distance and face masks in indoor settings.

"So, as we come to the fourth step [of the lockdown roadmap], we have to balance the risks," Johnson said in a Downing Street virtual briefing.

"We must be honest with ourselves that if we can't reopen our society in the next few weeks, when we will be helped by the arrival of summer and by the school holidays, then we must ask ourselves when will we be able to return to normal," he said.

To the critics calling for a delay, the UK PM warned the alternative was to open up in the winter when the virus will have an "advantage".

While the final decision on the timeline will be made based on coronavirus infections and hospitalisations data next Monday, the plan for England is for an end to all restrictions on July 19.

The devolved regions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland set their own lockdown rules based on localised data, but by and large follow the parameters in England.

"I understand that some people are cautious about the idea of easing restrictions. But we must balance the risks," Sajid Javid said in a Commons statement on the COVID-19 lockdown plans.

"This pandemic is far from over, and we'll continue with caution. But we're increasingly confident that our plan is working, and that we can soon begin a new chapter based on the foundations of personal responsibility and common sense rather than the blunt instrument of rules and regulations," he said.

The minister, who has been in the post of Health Secretary for around 10 days since predecessor Matt Hancock resigned, has said it is important to move on from a COVID-focus.

"And we can't live in a world where the only thing we are thinking about is COVID and not about all the other health problems, not about our economic problems, or education challenges, and we have to make use of a vaccine that is thankfully working," he said.

Opposition Labour Party as well as some doctors and trade unions have expressed concern that the lifting of all restrictions, including face masks in enclosed spaces, may be premature as the Delta variant cases continue to rise in the UK.

On Monday, a further 27,334 cases and another nine COVID deaths were reported across the UK.

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