Fully-vaccinated GPs who are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid can avoid self-isolation in ‘exceptional circumstances’ from today, the Government has announced.
Earlier this month, it was announced that double-jabbed contacts of Covid cases, as well as contacts aged under 18, will no longer be required to self-isolate from 16 August.
Today the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said this will be brought forward for frontline health and social care staff, starting from today – when legal restrictions are lifted in England.
It said that fully-vaccinated GPs in England who have been told to self-isolate – either because they have been contacted by Test and Trace or advised to isolate by the Covid-19 app – ‘will be permitted to attend work in exceptional circumstances’.
The requirement to isolate will be replaced by ‘testing mitigations’, including the requirement for a negative PCR test and daily negative lateral flow tests for ‘a minimum of seven days and up to 10 days or completion of the identified self-isolation period’, it added.
The DHSC said the measure is being introduced to ‘alleviate pressure on NHS and social care services’ and ‘only to frontline NHS and social care staff where their absence may lead to a significant risk of harm’.
The decision to allow the exemption should be made ‘on a case-by-case basis’ and only after a risk assessment has been carried out by the organisation’s management, it added.
It must then be authorised by the local director of infection prevention and control, the lead professional for health protection, or the relevant director of public health, it said.
It added: ‘Careful consideration should be given by local NHS and social care organisations to the risk of onward transmission compared to the risk to delivery of critical services.’
Those permitted to attend work will be considered to have a ‘reasonable excuse’ under the self-isolation regulations because ‘their absence could result in harm’, it said.
However, it added that they will continue to receive self-isolation reminders and will remain legally obliged to self-isolate when not at work.
The exemption will be contingent on healthcare workers:
- Being fully vaccinated, defined as having received two doses of an MHRA-approved vaccination with 14 days having elapsed since the final dose
- Taking a PCR test and self-isolating until receipt of a negative result and only attending work if the result is negative
- Taking daily LFD tests prior to starting work each day and reporting the results, staying at home and arranging a PCR test as soon as possible if they receive a positive result
- Staying at home and immediately arranging a PCR test if they develop any Covid symptoms
- Complying with all relevant infection control precautions and wearing PPE ‘properly’ throughout the day during the 10-day period, with any breaches to be reported immediately
- Not working with any clinically extremely vulnerable patients or residents
Health secretary Sajid Javid said: ‘As we learn to live with this virus, it’s important that we ensure frontline staff can keep providing the best possible care and support to people up and down the country.
‘The government has backed healthcare services at every turn through this global pandemic and these new rules will fortify our collective defences against this awful virus, by allowing fully vaccinated frontline NHS and social care staff to continue to work when needed.’
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries said: ‘With the number of cases continuing to rise, it is imperative that we do everything we can to manage this virus and support our NHS and social care services under the strain of increased demand and sustained pressure.
‘We have provided specific guidance to NHS and social care settings for circumstances where there is a significant risk to health or safety resulting from staff absence or a critical service cannot run.’
She added: ‘This measure only applies to double vaccinated staff, who will only be able to attend work after testing negative on PCR and daily lateral flow tests, and following a risk assessment and the supervision of the health service.’
It comes as both data and GP experience indicate that cases of Covid-19 in double-vaccinated people are continuing to rise, with the number of new cases in the vaccinated population set to overtake the unvaccinated in the coming days.