THE Covid-19 isolation period has been slashed from ten days to just seven – freeing up Brits to enjoy Christmas.
Ministers have announced that people need two negative lateral flow tests – the first on day six and the second 24 hours later – in order to leave quarantine.
But they will be urged to limit contact, wear face masks in public and work from home if they can.
The rule change comes into effect from today (Wednesday, December 22), meaning it could free hundreds of thousands of people who tested positive last week and expected to be isolating until Christmas.
At least 280,000 Brits will now be allowed to spend Christmas with their families.
The figure includes the 102,875 people who tested positive on December 15, the 95,058 from December 16, and the 82,945 people from December 17.
Self-isolation starts the day you tested positive, or from when your symptoms started prior to your test.
So there are likely thousands more whose symptoms started in the days prior who are able to enjoy Christmas after thinking they could not.
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UKHSA said if you are already self-isolating you can carry out a LFD on days 6 and 7.
If you have already passed day 6, you still need to carry out two consecutive LFD tests, 24 hours apart, and get negative results from each before you can stop self-isolating.
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People who are unvaccinated are still required to self-isolate for 10 days if they get Covid, or a close contact of someone who has the virus.
UK Health Security Agency chief executive Dr Jenny Harries said: “This new guidance will help break chains of transmission and minimise the impact on lives and livelihoods.”
She said it was crucial people carried out the tests.
“Following advice from our clinical experts we are reducing the self-isolation period from ten days to seven if you test negative for two days running.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said: “We want to reduce the disruption from Covid-19 to people’s everyday lives."
Speaking to BBC News, Mr Javid described the decision as a “sensible way forward”.
He said: “I think this is a very sensible, balanced and proportionate take. It is great that when people do get infected that they are properly isolating, I think that clearly helps prevent infection.”
The move will reduce pressure on employees working while others are self-isolating owing to the Omicron wave.
Dr Shashank Patil, London regional chair of the Royal Collge of Medicine said the rule-change was a "welcome move".
He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme staff would be "on the floor a bit earlier" after catching the virus and having to stay at home.
The British Medical Association has warned as many as 50,000 NHS staff will be self-isolating by Christmas Day.
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NHS Employers boss Danny Mortimer said wide-scale disruption was inevitable if cases went on rising at a rapid rate.
He said reports suggested 130,000 mental health, ambulance, community and hospitals staff could be off on Christmas Day.
He said: “With bed occupancy at 93 per cent, this is increasingly worrying.”
Analysis by UKHSA suggests that a seven-day isolation period alongside two negative lateral flow test results has nearly the same protective effect as a 10-day isolation period.
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