The minimum isolation period in England for people who test positive for Covid-19 is to be cut to just five days, the government confirmed on Thursday.
Health secretary Sajid Javid told MPs that the length of time people needed to isolate following a positive result would be reduced from seven days to five from Monday.
From then, people will be able to test twice, on day five and day six, and if both tests are negative, they will be free to leave isolation on day six.
In a statement to the House of Commons, Javid said the UK was “leading the world in learning to live with Covid” and “with this in mind, we’ve been reviewing the isolation period”.
He continued: “UKHSA [UK Health Security Agency] data shows that around two thirds of positive case are no longer infectious by the end of day five, and we want to use the testing capacity that we’ve built up to help these people leave isolation safely.”
He added that the two tests were however “critical to these balanced and proportionate plans”.
The current guidance is for people who have had at least two vaccines to test on days six and seven of isolation. If both tests are negative, there are free to leave on day seven.
The Omicron variant has led to a spike in cases, and pressure is mounting on the health sector and wider economy because of staff absences linked to the pandemic.
Matthew Fell, chief policy director at the Confederation of British Industry, said: “Firms are under the cosh dealing with mounting staff absences from self-isolation, so this move should have an almost immediate benefit.
“Businesses have been urging a reduction in the self-isolation period, providing health experts confirm it is safe, as a pragmatic change that will help keep the economy open as we adapt to live with the virus.”