The two-week quarantine for contacts of Covid-19 cases could be halved or eliminated entirely under plans which would see the mass use of pregnancy-style testing kits.
The kits, which give results in minutes, would be used to identify un-infected contacts and release them from the 14-day quarantine.
The testing scheme will be trialled on emergency workers in Liverpool next week, who will return to shifts if they test negative, and rolled out to contacts of Covid-19 cases in the city who have been isolating for at least a week.
If successful, it could be rolled out across the UK, although this is not expected to get the green light until next year.
Experts heralded the scheme as offering a way of ‘un-crippling society and parts of the economy that are important at this critical juncture’.
It follows mounting concerns that contacts of Covid-19 cases are not following the two-week quarantine requirements, with one survey in September suggesting barely 11 per cent are following the rules.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has urged people who are self-isolating to keep themselves socially distanced from those they live with.
In a video update from No10, Boris Johnson – who is self-isolating after having a mask-less meeting with an MP who tested positive for coronavirus – said he wanted to ‘reach out’ to other people forced to self-isolate.
He said: ‘NHS Test and Trace, which is getting ever better, has achieved what so many of my political foes have wanted to achieve for many years, put me under house arrest.
Emergency workers and contacts of Covid-19 cases who have been isolating for more than seven days will be offered the lateral flow tests. It is the next stage of the mass testing scheme pilot (Pictured: A woman gets swabbed in Liverpool)
It comes after mounting concerns over the performance of Test and Trace. It failed to reach a record number of positive cases in the latest week for which data is available
The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient passes the disease to – had fallen slightly to a maximum of 1.1, from a maximum of 1.2 last week, and could be as low as 1.0 or lower in every region of Britain
MORE COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS IN THE NEW YEAR, WARNS DEPUTY CHIEF OF NHS PROVIDERS
The deputy chief executive of NHS Providers has said she expects lockdown restrictions to be in place into the new year to get us through the ‘hump’ of winter.
Saffron Cordery told BBC Breakfast the NHS workforce was now ‘incredibly tired’ as they treat coronavirus patients as well as trying to keep regular services open.
She added that the main priority for hospital chiefs ‘is to look after their staff so they can look after patients effectively,’ adding ‘they are acutely aware of how tired their staff are’.
‘There’s this huge hope (of a vaccine) among staff and among the general public and this sense of ‘oh we can take our foot off the peddle now’,’ she said.
‘But actually we can’t, we need to hold on just a little while longer until all of the elements are in place.’
Ms Cordery said she expected the restrictions to remain in place into the new year to make sure we are through the ‘hump of winter-meets-coronavirus’.
‘I know how frustrating it can be, so I just wanted to say to everybody else who is in my shoes, don’t forget that, of course, the isolation doesn’t necessarily apply to the people you share your home with – your partner can still go out shopping or whatever.
‘Your housemates can still go out to exercise but you have got to make sure that you continue to observe social distancing from them.
‘Our kids can obviously continue to go to school but you’ve got to make sure you observe social distancing from them and follow the basics: hands, face, space.
‘And bear in mind what you are doing is incredibly important because that is how we are going to break the chain of transmission, stop the disease, get the R down – as I believe we are doing at the moment – and get in under control.
‘Thank you very much everybody for what you are doing, and if you do find it a strain and you do feel under mental pressure because of what’s going on, then get onto the web and look at Every Mind Matters.’
Emergency workers in Liverpool will be tested daily for Covid-19 from Monday, as part of the pilot, and release those in quarantine early.
Lateral flow tests which provide rapid results will be handed out to them.
The mass testing scheme will require the approval of England’s chief medical officer Chris Whitty before it can be offered to all contacts nationwide.
Professor Calum Semple, an expert in outbreak medicine and member of SAGE at the University of Liverpool, told The Times the plans would release key workers from quarantine.
‘If we use lateral flow tests on a daily basis, we can completely avoid quarantine,’ he said.
‘If you take a fire truck with six people and the driver is Covid-positive, then five people sitting behind him have to go into quarantine for 14 days. That’s quite a crude, arbitrary 14 days.
‘So we can take the other five people and give them a new driver, and give the rest of them multipacks of lateral low tests to use each morning before the shift. And we can keep that fire truck on the road.’
The arbitrary two-week quarantine period is meant to stop anyone who has been exposed to the virus, and hence could be infected, from spreading it further.
It was first recommended on the basis that anyone infected with the virus could take up to two weeks to show symptoms.
But many studies have shown that most people who are infected tend to show symptoms up to five days after they were first infected. These include a high temperature, new continuous cough and loss of taste and smell.
In other coronavirus news:
- Office for National Statistics data showed daily infections dropped from 47,700 to 38,900 between November 8 and November 14, a fall of 18 per cent;
- The Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) said the reproduction ‘R’ rate – the average number of people each Covid-19 patient passes the disease to – had fallen slightly to a maximum of 1.1, from a maximum of 1.2 last week, and could be as low as 1.0 or lower in every region of Britain;
- Professor Lockdown Neil Ferguson warned most Covid curbs should stay after national shutdown ends on December 2 or infections will ‘rebound’;
- Northern Ireland is going into lockdown again just days after reopening, with all non-essential shops, hair salons and cafes forced to close from next Friday in another tough two-week shutdown;
- Rishi Sunak is facing a battle with trade unions as they brand his pay squeeze for five million public sector workers – apart from nurses and doctors – a ‘cruel body blow’ as he scrambles for ways to help pay for coronavirus recovery;
- Ex-Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the Government should test everyone for coronavirus once a month to make a ‘freedom pass’ system where people with negative results can live normal lives;
- People with Covid-19 antibodies are protected against reinfection for at least six months, an Oxford study has found.
Boris Johnson is reportedly preparing to announce a plan for an easing of England’s current lockdown rules
Ministers could send Army troops to Hull as a ‘Covid emergency’ is declared
The Government is considering introducing ‘feet on the ground’ military support in Hull to help tackle the city’s Covid-19 infection rate – the worst figure recorded in England.
Council leaders and MPs issued a joint statement after a meeting on Friday with the Government’s national Covid-19 Taskforce over what they have called Hull’s ‘Covid-19 emergency.’
Figures published on Thursday show the city had 1,944 new cases recorded in the seven days to November 15 – the equivalent of 748.3 cases per 100,000 people.
This is up slightly on 735.6 in the seven days to November 8.
In a joint statement following the meeting, leader of Hull City Council Stephen Brady and MPs Dame Diana Johnson, Karl Turner and Emma Hardy said: ‘We’ve had a positive meeting with the Government and discussions for military support are underway with a request for assistance with planning and actual ‘feet on the ground’ to support the administration of our targeted lateral flow tests.
‘We also made the point that we would be keen to be part of any pilot on mass vaccination with additional logistical support.’
It comes after repeated warnings that most people told to self-isolate by Test and Trace may not be following the rules.
A study published as a pre-print in September on medRxiv found, after surveying more than 40,000 people, less than 11 per cent were following the two-week quarantine period.
There has also been mounting concern over Test and Trace’s ability to stop the virus from spreading in the UK.
The latest figures from the Department of Health on the system’s performance, released on Thursday, showed it had failed to reach a record number of Covid-19 cases, after appearing to get slightly better last week.
It missed 21,419 positive cases in the seven-day spell to November 11, the largest number since it was launched in the UK.
Of the 156,853 Covid-19 cases transferred to the system, 84.9 per cent – or 133,195 – were reached and asked to self-isolate. This is slightly below the previous week, when 85.6 per cent of all Covid-19 cases – or 121,407 – were reached.
Of close contacts, those who had been near Covid-19 cases for more than 15 minutes before they tested positive for the virus, the system reached the same proportion – 60.5 per cent – as the previous week.
But this meant they failed to get hold of almost 189,885 people who could be infected with the virus, leaving them to continue to circulate in the community and possibly spread the disease further. In the previous week they missed 190,835 of these individuals.
Test and Trace – which Mr Johnson promised would be ‘world-beating’ – has fallen short of its targets for weeks. It has been struggling to get through to many Covid-19 patients and their contacts since infections began to surge again in late September.
Its former Talk Talk executive boss Baroness Dido Harding has come under mounting pressure to quit over the system’s performance.