Scrap isolation to save NHS staffing crisis: Care home boss says workers who have Covid but no symptoms should NOT isolate as NHS boss calls for period to be relaxed to five days amid 24 trusts declaring critical incidents and waiting lists hitting 6m

  •  Tony Stein said around 500 of the company's workers have had to isolate at some point during the pandemic 
  • Called on Government to remove isolation period for people who had coronavirus but were asymptomatic 
  •  Head of NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, said he would suppor changing Covid self-isolation to five days 
  •  Twenty-four NHS trusts declared 'critical incidents' due to staffing absences and rising Covid admissions

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The boss of a care home group with 2,300 staff has called on the Government to remove isolation requirements for people with Covid who are asymptomatic amid a rising backlog of patients in hospital.

Tony Stein, chief executive of Healthcare Management Solutions (HCMS), which has around 60 care homes in the UK, said around 500 of the company's workers have had to isolate at some point during the pandemic, despite most having no symptoms.

The Birmingham firm, which owns some care homes and runs others for investors, currently has more than 100 staff isolating, a spokesman said.

Mr Stein has now called on the Government to go a step further than it already has - after dropping the requirement for people who have tested positive on a lateral flow test to then have a PCR - and remove isolation for those who were otherwise well.

He backed up his call by saying the Omicron variant was 'drastically milder' and that care home staff must be fully vaccinated, along with most residents.

It comes as the head of the NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor, revealed he would support changing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Speaking on the removal of the isolation period for those who were asymptomatic Mr Stein said: 'We now have had more than 500 team members - around a quarter of our workforce - who have tested positive for Covid. Most of them have been asymptomatic.

'The removal of the PCR element of the isolation period is welcome but we should go a step further and remove isolation periods entirely for these people.

Tony Stein
Matthew Taylor

Tony Stein (left), chief executive of Healthcare Management Solutions (HCMS), has called on the Government to remove isolation for those who are asymptomatic. It comes as the head of NHS Confederation, Matthew Taylor (right), revealed he would support changing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis 

'In a highly vaccinated population like the UK, where a drastically milder version of Covid is becoming prevalent, it is time for the Government and public to accept that asymptomatic people shouldn't isolate.

'Evidence suggests that if you're double vaccinated and boosted - like all social care staff are mandated to be - you aren't going to get seriously ill. A vast majority of residents are also vaccinated.

'There is a flaw in the argument that the purpose of isolation is to prevent the NHS being overwhelmed. Most people with Covid are not ending up in hospital and those that are are less ill and for a shorter time.'    

Mr Stein said a lack of care staff due to isolation rules meant there was a backlog of patients who were ready to leave hospital but had no place to go to.

He said: 'In fact, at this point the cure could be worse than the disease itself. In December, there were roughly 14,000 patients who had been stuck in a hospital bed for over three weeks.

'Nearly 9,000 of these were deemed ready for discharge, but the number of carers isolating meant care homes didn't have the staffing levels to receive them. This clearly has a knock-on effect and is preventing other patients from receiving treatment.'

A lack of care home staff also made it difficult to manage visitors for residents - to the detriment of those missing their families, Mr Stein added.

His comments come after Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation, an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the isolation period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the situation was 'desperate' and any way of getting staff back to work was a 'good thing'. But he said it would be 'completely counterproductive' to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.

Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.   

It came as figures showed nearly 6million people were on the NHS waiting list for routine treatment in England and more than 10,000 people waited 12-plus hours to be seen in A&E in November.   

The latest calls come as twenty-four NHS trusts declared 'critical incidents' due to staffing absences and rising Covid admissions, indicating that they may not be able to deliver critical care in the coming weeks. 

Officials have yet to release the full list of affected trusts, however those which have raised the alarm include NHS sites in Bristol, Plymouth and Blackpool.    

Today Britain's daily Covid cases fell for the first time in a month and hospitalisations dropped in London as Government ministers claimed the NHS crisis will be 'short-lived'. 

Department of Health figures showed another 179,756 Covid cases were recorded over the last 24 hours, down slightly on the 189,213 reported last week.

The drop is likely linked to figures from Wales, which reported two days of cases last Thursday but only a day's today. Its infections have fallen 56 per cent from 21,051 to 9,213.

In England, infections rose four per cent to 152,306. But the lower rise may be a glimmer of hope that cases in the country are now starting to flatten amid signs London's cases may be peaking.  

Latest hospitalisations showed another 2,078 people were admitted to wards on January 6, which was up 38 per cent on a week ago. But in London which was first to be struck by the Omicron wave admissions fell 19 per cent from 456 to 367.  

Boris Johnson (pictured at a Covid vaccine centre in Northampton today) claimed the NHS has enough staff to see through the Omicron wave in a bid to downplay hospital pressure despite two dozen trusts declaring 'critical incidents' and waiting lists hitting new highs

Boris Johnson (pictured at a Covid vaccine centre in Northampton today) claimed the NHS has enough staff to see through the Omicron wave in a bid to downplay hospital pressure despite two dozen trusts declaring 'critical incidents' and waiting lists hitting new highs

A total of 24 out of 137 NHS Trusts in England have declared critical incidents — or 17.5 per cent. Above are the trusts that have publicly announced they have declared these incidents to help them manage winter pressures

The number of daily positive Covid tests recorded in England has exceeded 100,000 for nearly two weeks. However, the number of patients in hospital with the virus is a fraction of the level seen last winter, while deaths remain flat

The number of daily positive Covid tests recorded in England has exceeded 100,000 for nearly two weeks. However, the number of patients in hospital with the virus is a fraction of the level seen last winter, while deaths remain flat

Tory MPs criticised the BBC over its Covid coverage last night after it gave airtime to a Left-wing critic of the PM. It came as the Today programme aired a string of warnings from other NHS figures over the 'really challenging' circumstances facing hospitals

Tory MPs criticised the BBC over its Covid coverage last night after it gave airtime to a Left-wing critic of the PM. It came as the Today programme aired a string of warnings from other NHS figures over the 'really challenging' circumstances facing hospitals

Another 231 Covid deaths were also recorded today, down 30 per cent on the same time last week. 

Boris Johnson today claimed the NHS has enough staff to see it through the Omicron wave as he tried to downplay hospital pressure despite two dozen trusts declaring 'critical incidents' and waiting lists hitting new highs.

At least 5,000 Covid 'patients' in England are NOT primarily in hospital for virus, data suggests 

As many as 5,000 Covid patients in hospital in England may have been admitted for other ailments, NHS figures suggest as the super-mild Omicron variant continues to engulf the country.

Latest data shows so-called 'incidental' cases — those who test positive after admission for something else, such as a broken leg — made up a third of coronavirus inpatient numbers on December 28.

At that point, there were just 8,300 Covid sufferers being treated in England's hospitals, 2,750 of which were not primarily receiving care for the virus (33 per cent). 

More up-to-date statistics from the Government's Covid dashboard show that, as of Wednesday, there were 15,600 beds occupied by people infected with the virus. 

It is not clear exactly how many of the current patients are there primarily for Covid because the NHS's breakdown is backdated and only covers up to December 28. 

But, if incidental cases still account for a third of cases, it means at least 5,000 who are being counted as coronavirus patients are not suffering seriously with the disease.

Experts say there is reason to believe the share of incidentals will continue to rise as Omicron pushes England's infection rates to record numbers, with one in 15 people estimated to have had Covid on New Year's Eve.

In South Africa — ground zero of the Omicron outbreak — up to 60 per cent of Covid patients were not admitted primarily for the virus at the height of the crisis there. 

Separate analysis of NHS data shows 45 per cent of beds newly occupied by Covid patients in the final week of December were patients not primarily ill with the virus. 

It comes as two dozen NHS trusts declared 'critical incidents' amid staggering staffing shortages caused by sky-high infection rates, indicating that they may be unable to provide vital care in the coming weeks. 

One in ten workers are off and 183,000 Brits are being sent into isolation every day on average, prompting calls for the isolation period to be cut to five days. 

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While the Prime Minister accepted the health service was 'under huge pressure, he said it was 'not true' that it could be overwhelmed because so many staff are off isolating with Covid.

He said staff numbers had been increased — about 6,000 more doctors and 10,000 nurses were hired during the pandemic — which should ease the strain, combined with the NHS' volunteer army of trainee and retired medics.

Earlier, George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, claimed the current NHS crisis would be 'short-lived' and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said the situation was 'not unusual' for winter. 

On Wednesday, the PM predicted that the country would be 'much closer to normality' by the end of this month, despite another day of near-record Covid cases. 

Mr Johnson has held his nerve despite calls for tougher restrictions to tackle Omicron, unlike his counterparts in Scotland and Wales, winning him praise from Tory MPs. 

But more than 180,000 Brits are being sent into isolation every day on average and the crisis has forced one in 10 NHS staff off work, putting significant strain on local health services. 

Twenty-four NHS trusts so far have declared 'critical incidents' due to staffing absences and rising Covid admissions, indicating that they may not be able to deliver critical care in the coming weeks. 

Officials have yet to release the full list of affected trusts, however those which have raised the alarm include NHS sites in Bristol, Plymouth and Blackpool. Health bosses have already been forced to cancel non-urgent operations and have asked heart attack victims to make their own way to hospital.

Trusts declaring critical incidents — the highest level of alert — can ask staff on leave or on rest days to return to wards, and enables them to receive help from nearby hospitals. 

It comes as MPs warned the patient waiting list — already on the brink of 6million in England alone — could double in three years without urgent action to get more doctors and nurses on wards.

They say efforts to clear the backlog are being thrown off course by the self-isolation fuelled staffing crisis. Even NHS bosses have called for No10 to look at slashing the quarantine period to five days, like the US.       

But Mr Johnson said it is 'not true' that the NHS does not have enough staff to cope with the pressures it is facing.

Speaking at a vaccination centre in Moulton Park, Northampton, today, he said: 'First of all, yes, I appreciate that the NHS is under huge pressure and yes, you're quite right in what you say about the way it's been continuous over the last 18 months – we've had wave after wave of Covid and our NHS has responded magnificently and they've kept going.

'And of course I understand how frustrating it is to see another wave coming in, and I thank doctors, nurses, all health staff, everybody, for what they're doing to keep going.'

But he said staff numbers had been increased, and that combined with the calling back of retired staff and volunteers would ease the strain.

He insisted Omicron was milder than previous variants but said: 'The pressures on hospitals are clear. What we've got to do is give the NHS all the help we can through the next period, with all the simplifications of systems, moving staff from one hospital to another, all the ways we can back staff up, but also make sure that the people who are likely to get ill get vaccinated first.

'The saddest words in the English language are 'too late'. When you're in ICU and you haven't been vaccinated, sadly it's too late to get vaccinated, so get boosted now.'

Mr Eustice predicted the country would get past the Omicron peak of infections 'relatively soon', with NHS struggles set to be 'quite short lived'.

Speaking to Sky News, the Cabinet minister said: 'This is a difficult situation.

'It will be quite short lived because obviously we will get past this peak of infections relatively soon, but in the meantime we've taken that step to reduce the isolation period and we're doing all we can to make sure we can redeploy resources (in the NHS).'

Asked when hospitals are likely to return to 'normal', he added: 'We've seen growing numbers of infections over the last couple of weeks but people will start to return.

'So even as some start to go off work, there will be others returning. As I say, it won't be too long where you'll have more people returning to work than those who are isolating.

'But in the meantime, there is obviously a short-term issue and that's why we need to try and redeploy resources the best we can around the country to help those who are suffering a particularly acute shortage of staff.'

Mr Shapps also poured cold water over the rising number of NHS trusts declaring incidents, saying: 'It's not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter.' He accepted, however, that there are 'very real pressures'.

A raft of data has suggested that the outbreak in London — the first region to fall victim to the ultra-transmissible strain — may have already peaked. Up to one in 10 people living in the capital were infected on New Year's Eve, statisticians estimate. 

Cases are still going up in over-60s in London but experts believe the trend will reverse in the next week. And the number of daily infections spotted across the UK as a whole jumped just 6 per cent in a week yesterday.

It comes amid growing calls from experts, businesses and even NHS leaders to cut self-isolation from five days to avoid paralysing the economy and disrupting vital services.  

The proportion of beds occupied by patients who are primarily in hospital 'for' Covid, versus those who were admitted for something else and tested positive later, referred to as 'with' Covid. The data looks at (55 per cent). That suggests 45 per cent were not seriously ill with Covid, yet were counted in the official statistics. In the South East of England 66 per cent were primarily non-Covid, in the East of England it was 51 per cent and in London it was 48 per cent. Critics argue, however, that the figures are unreliable because they don't include discharges, which could skew the data. But they add to the growing trend

The proportion of beds occupied by patients who are primarily in hospital 'for' Covid, versus those who were admitted for something else and tested positive later, referred to as 'with' Covid. The data covers the week between December 21 and December 28, when were around 2,100 additional beds occupied by the virus in England — of which 1,150 were primary illness (55 per cent). That suggests 45 per cent were not seriously ill with Covid, yet were counted in the official statistics. In the South East of England 66 per cent were primarily non-Covid, in the East of England it was 51 per cent and in London it was 48 per cent. Critics argue, however, that the figures are unreliable because they don't include discharges, which could skew the data. But they add to the growing trend 

Latest figures show that hospitals in England have actually had fewer beds occupied this winter than they did pre-Covid. An average of 89,097 general and acute beds were open each day in the week to December 26, of which 77,901 were occupied. But the NHS was looking after more hospital patients in the week to December 26 in 2019, 2018 and 2017

Latest figures show that hospitals in England have actually had fewer beds occupied this winter than they did pre-Covid. An average of 89,097 general and acute beds were open each day in the week to December 26, of which 77,901 were occupied. But the NHS was looking after more hospital patients in the week to December 26 in 2019, 2018 and 2017

While Covid hospitalisations are rising quickly in England, they are still half of the level of last January and far fewer patients are needing ventilation

While Covid hospitalisations are rising quickly in England, they are still half of the level of last January and far fewer patients are needing ventilation

The US and France have already squeezed quarantine to five days for anyone without symptoms, and studies show very few patients are infectious beyond that point. 

Around 1.3million Britons are currently thought to be languishing under house arrest as the NHS, rail services and bin collections all buckle under the weight of staff absences.  

With the NHS facing staffing and capacity struggles, Mr Shapps defended the Government's decision to not go further than Plan B restrictions for England.

'We are always trying to find the right compromise on going too tight on restrictions – lockdowns, let's face it, they have a lot of costs connected,' he added.

'Then again, not wanting our hospitals to be overrun. This is where I think Plan B has been shown to be the right approach so far.'

NHS sources told MailOnline that critical incidents were 'not a good way' of monitoring pressures on hospitals, saying it was better to analyse patient admissions and staff absences.

They warned that more than 24 trusts may have already declared critical incidents because they are not required to report them centrally. 

Government figures showed a total of 17,276 people were in hospital in the UK with Covid as of January 4, up 58 per cent week-on-week.

The figure is the highest number since February 19 last year, although far below the peak of almost 40,000 in January 2021.

Some 10 per cent of workers are also off sick of self-isolation due to Covid in hospitals, according to data leaked over the weekend.

Pressure is now also spilling over to GPs, where leaders warn there are a 'growing number' of staff absences due to Covid.

GPs say staffing absences are leaving them struggling to offer appointments 

GPs are struggling because of a 'significant number' of staff off sick with Covid, the chair of the Royal College of GPs has said.

One in ten NHS workers is already off work either because they are sick or are infected with the virus.

Professor Martin Marshall warned today that GP surgeries were also being affected, and struggling to meet their appointments.

He told Sky News: 'We've got very significant pressures in general practice, which are long-standing of course but are made considerably worse by the Covid pandemic, and particularly by this Omicron variant.

'We've got a growing number of clinicians and administrative staff in general practice who are either unwell or who are isolating, and are unable to contribute to the growing number of consultations that we're providing and the vaccination programme that we're contributing to as well. 

'So we've got a significant crisis on top of a long-standing one.'

He said there is a need to communicate to the general public 'the pressure that general practice is under and explain why it isn't possible to provide the service, the access and the quality of care that we would expect and want to be able to provide'.

He added: 'We also need to be able to direct patients who've got minor self-limiting problems to other resources, whether it be online, whether it be pharmacies, and we also, I think, need to be able to help our patients to self-care wherever that's possible.

'But the big issue here is the long-term crisis, which is about the recruitment of the 6,000 extra GPs and the 26,000 other health professionals which the Government committed to in 2019, but unfortunately isn't delivering on at present.' 

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Professor Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of GPs, told Sky News: 'We've got very significant pressures in general practice, which are long-standing of course but are made considerably worse by the Covid pandemic, and particularly by this Omicron variant.

'We've got a growing number of clinicians and administrative staff in general practice who are either unwell or who are isolating, and are unable to contribute to the growing number of consultations that we're providing and the vaccination programme that we're contributing to as well. 

'So we've got a significant crisis on top of a long-standing one.'

He said there is a need to communicate to the general public 'the pressure that general practice is under and explain why it isn't possible to provide the service, the access and the quality of care that we would expect and want to be able to provide'.

He added: 'We also need to be able to direct patients who've got minor self-limiting problems to other resources, whether it be online, whether it be pharmacies, and we also, I think, need to be able to help our patients to self-care wherever that's possible.

'But the big issue here is the long-term crisis, which is about the recruitment of the 6,000 extra GPs and the 26,000 other health professionals which the Government committed to in 2019, but unfortunately isn't delivering on at present.'

Mr Johnson's decision to hold his nerve and not impose more restrictions in England has won him praise from Conservatives, who said it was right not to lockdown every time there was a new variant. 

Former Prime Minister Theresa May hailed Mr Johnson, telling the Commons: 'May I commend you for resisting calls from Labour for more restrictions before Christmas. It's not in the national interest to shut down sectors of our economy every time we see a variant.'

Lockdown-sceptic MP Steve Brine also heralded the PM, saying: 'The PM deserves real credit for decisions in respect of Covid — he has followed the evidence and taken the wider view of our society and economy.'

Tory MPs have also vented their fury over the BBC giving airtime to Dr Zahid Chauhan — a GP in Oldham and Labour councillor — who was invited onto Radio 4's Today programme to take aim at Mr Johnson.

He claimed it was wrong for the PM to say, as he did on Tuesday, that the country could 'ride out' the Omicron threat when the public was 'suffering'.

Presenter Nick Robinson interviewed Dr Chauhan, who he introduced as 'a GP in Oldham and a Labour councillor in the area'.

Asked what the cancellation of non-urgent surgery would mean, he said: 'It means for my patients that they will be waiting longer, they will be unfortunately suffering more... If you are waiting for a hip replacement and you can't walk, that means you are in pain.'

Asked whether the cancellations would have been necessary had restrictions been in place, he said: 'If you have appropriate availability of lateral flow tests and PCR tests available, that means staff can come back to work.

'In the Manchester area people could not book PCR tests yesterday. All these factors play a role. It does not help when your Prime Minister says we will ride it out while the public is suffering.' 

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said: 'Medical experts are there to express a view about Covid issues and risks but not to make political points about the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Opposition.

'If you invite someone on for their medical opinion and they talk about their political views, it ends up with allegations of political bias.'

A BBC spokesman said: 'We made it clear at the top of the interview that the GP was also a Labour councillor and none of the questions put to him were of a political nature.' 

It comes as MPs warned today that efforts to clear record waiting lists risked being thrown off course by a staffing shortage caused by Covid isolation rules.

The Commons health and social care committee said there were 93,000 vacancies in the health service, with rules forcing staff to self-isolate for at least a week if they test positive for Covid adding to the shortfall.

The committee said NHS staff are under pressure from multiple angles as they deal with routine care, Covid and soaring demand for ambulances and A&E.

MPs fear workers will quit unless they see 'light at the end of the tunnel' in the form of more recruits.

They say tackling the wider backlog caused by the pandemic is a major and 'unquantifiable' challenge as it includes all those who have yet to come forward for care.

Committee members want a broad national recovery plan embracing emergency, community and social care, as well as mental health and GPs.

The report said: 'Of the 5.8million patients waiting to start treatment in September 2021, 300,000 have been waiting more than a year and 12,000 more than two years.'

But it cautions: 'With Covid-related measures such as social distancing and staff self-isolation constraining NHS capacity, we heard it is extremely difficult to accurately quantify the true scale of the backlog.'

Former Health Secretary and committee chair Jeremy Hunt warned that NHS workers were retiring early because of the 'stress and pressure' they faced, combined with 'perverse' pension arrangements.

He said preventing doctors and nurses from leaving the health service was crucial to addressing a backlog of almost six million people waiting to receive NHS treatment.

Speaking to LBC, the chairman of the Health and Social Care Committee said: 'I think one of the things that will make a difference is to do things that stop people leaving the NHS.

'We're getting a lot of people leaving the NHS, we're getting a lot of people who are retiring early because of the stress and pressure.

'Some people find that it doesn't pay to work beyond a certain age because of the pension arrangements, which are very perverse at the moment, so we could attack those.

'But I would say, most of all, what people want to know is that the pressure of not having enough doctors and nurses is not going to go on forever.'

It comes amid mounting pressure to cut self-isolation periods to five days to help ease pressures on the health service, with doctors warning current guidelines were adding to 'misery' and 'crippling' the health service. 

They are also calling for guidelines on patients exposed to a Covid case to be reviewed, which currently require them to isolate for 14 days from last exposure if they remain in hospital. 

This applies to all patients, irrespective of whether they have been fully vaccinated or had a previous Covid infection. The same rule applies if the patient is discharged to a care home — they must be isolated for the remainder of the 14-day period. 

Pat Cattini, an infection control nurse at the Royal Marsden NHS foundation Trust, told the Health Service Journal (HSJ) the guidance has never been updated 'despite vaccination and changing epidemiology and is crippling healthcare'.  

 

Data justifying move to cut self-isolation period to five days was evident last SUMMER, experts argue amid growing calls for Boris to follow the US to save nation from being paralysed

By Luke Andrews Health reporter for MailOnline and Emily Craig Health reporter for MailOnline

Ministers have sat on evidence justifying slashing self-isolation to just five days since last summer, according to critics who have demanded Boris Johnson drops the crippling rules that are paralysing the nation. 

Rail services and bin collections have ground to a halt with up to 1.3million Britons currently under house arrest, while the workforce crisis has left NHS bosses asking heart attack patients to make their own way to hospital. 

But the Adam Smith Institute, a neoliberal thinktank, said data published in August last year suggested it was safe to halve the quarantine period, which at the time stood at 10 days.

Oxford University research found 98 per cent of transmission occurs within the first five days of symptoms, and prompted experts on the topic to say the isolation period 'could be much shorter'. 

Virologists said today that they agreed with the findings, with the vast majority of spread happening in the days before and after someone starts feeling ill.

And James Lawson, a fellow at the ASI, told MailOnline: 'The research shows we can safely reduce the isolation period.  

'Governments say they want to follow the science, yet are ignoring the changes in circumstances and much of the data we've had since last summer.' 

He added: 'The isolation period is having harmful unintended consequences, including putting more pressure on the NHS through staff shortages. It is also making it harder to keep schools open, maintain deliveries and so on, which undermine wider society.'

Mr Lawson also said it was time for No10 to 'start trusting Britons' to take sensible precautions and 'forge a path back to normality, rather than adopting restrictions forever'.

Meanwhile, an NHS leader yesterday called for the period to be cut to five days if the science allows, saying any way to get staff back to work would be a 'good thing'. 

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 on Monday

Covid testing rules could be relaxed in an effort to combat the havoc wreaked on essential services across the country by thousands of key workers being stuck in self-isolation. Pictured: A deserted Waterloo Station at 08.15 on Monday

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool on Tuesday

As the number succumbing to the virus reached a record high, there were fears that staff absence due to Covid could become just as big a problem, with bin collections delayed, trains cancelled and several hospitals in Greater Manchester saying they would suspend non-urgent surgeries. Pictured: Overflowing bins in the Walton area of Liverpool on Tuesday

Last month ministers trimmed the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But the Prime Minister is under huge pressure to follow the US, which squeezed quarantine to just five days for anyone without symptoms.

Business leaders yesterday warned that they too were struggling, with the managing director of supermarket Iceland saying their absence graph was 'almost vertical' and more than double the previous peak. 

Richard Walker, managing director of the chain, told Sky News: 'I think it is fair to say that business is under strain as never before. This new variant seems to be a lot more contagious and that is having a big impact.

'My call on government would be firstly to prioritise lateral flow tests for key workers including food retail front line shop workers, but also to revisit the onerous isolation rules.

Now No10 scraps pre-departure Covid swabs and says Day 2 tests do NOT have to be PCR

Boris Johnson yesterday axed the Covid travel testing scheme brought in to fight Omicron and asymptomatic people who test positive on lateral flow no longer need a follow-up PCR, in a bid to ration testing.

The Prime Minister told MPs in the Commons that fully vaccinated passengers entering the UK will no longer be required to take pre-departure tests from 4am on Friday.

Day 2 follow-up PCRs for UK arrivals are also being scrapped and replaced by lateral flows — saving people up to £60 per test — and people no longer need to isolate until they get a negative result.

If they test positive, however, they will have to take a PCR swab and self-isolate for up to 10 days if they are indeed positive.

Mr Johnson said the Omicron variant is now so prevalent in the country that the measure is having limited impact on the spread of the disease. 

The moves — which were welcomed by the struggling travel industry —  come after it was revealed confirmatory PCRs for asymptomatic cases who test positive on lateral flow will also be scrapped next week. 

The changes have been announced amid sky-high case numbers — with another 197,000 announced yesterday — and unprecedented demand for testing.

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'Seven days is a long time for people who are triple jabbed when the symptoms are for the vast majority of people not more than a common cold or mild flu.'

MPs and experts have also joined the growing chorus demanding a change in the rules, with other nations such as France and Greece having already cut it down to five days. 

Tory MP Craig Mackinlay told MailOnline earlier this week that the government faced a 'tough' choice, but the country was in the midst of a 'semi-lockdown' with a million Britons currently isolating after catching Covid.

He said cutting the quarantine period from seven to five days could be 'the answer' to England's self-isolation misery.

'We're almost facing a semi-lockdown because of people being off work who are perfectly well. You couldn't make that up,' he said. 'The US must have done a lot of work on it... and they have come up with five days as the answer. Perhaps it is.'

Epidemiologist Professor Tim Spector, who runs Covid-tracking study ZOE, said the UK should follow suit to 'protect the economy'.

And Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts — said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science. 

He told BBC Radio 4: 'As long as it is based on the science. Because on the one hand we do need to try to get staff back to work as soon as possible.

'Hospitals who have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate — any way of getting staff back into hospital is a good thing.

'But on the other hand, if staff come back into hospital and are infectious, that's completely counterproductive because that is going to mean more sickness in the hospital and for staff, so this can't be led by politics or blind hope — it has to be led by the science.

'If the science says it is possible for people to go back to work earlier, then of course NHS leaders will want that to be possible.'

He suggested that people in quarantine could test themselves on days three, four and five, and come out of isolation on day five if they test negative.  

University of St Andrews' researchers first raised the alarm bells about the length of quarantine in November 2020, discovering that the vast majority of Covid transmission happens during the first few days that someone is ill.

The paper, published in the peer-reviewed journal The Lancet Microbe, was a review of 79 studies investigating how long someone is infectious for.

The team's assertion that most people do no spread the virus after five days was based on research out of China and Taiwan — but only included several hundred patients.  

And in August last year Oxford University scientists said just two per cent of transmission happens from five days after warning signs appear.

The institute's Pathogen Dynamics Group — which was involved in developing the NHS Test and Trace app — also found 40 per cent of transmission occurs before symptoms emerge, and 35 per cent within the first and second days of falling ill. 

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated a record 3.27million people in England were infected on any given day in the week to December 31, up more than 60 per cent on the previous week

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimated a record 3.27million people in England were infected on any given day in the week to December 31, up more than 60 per cent on the previous week

Even NHS bosses back cutting self-isolation period to FIVE days as staffing crisis sees hospitals CANCEL routine operations 

An NHS leader yesterday revealed he would support slashing Covid self-isolation to five days amid an escalating staffing crisis that has engulfed hospitals and led some to cancel routine operations. 

Matthew Taylor, head of the NHS Confederation — an organisation which represents trusts, said two more days should be shaved off the period as long as it was backed up by the science.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the situation was 'desperate' and any way of getting staff back to work was a 'good thing'. But he said it would be 'completely counterproductive' to have infectious staff return to wards because it would exacerbate the spread of Omicron.

Last month ministers cut the self-isolation period to seven days, providing someone tested negative using a lateral flow on days six and seven. But pressure is mounting on Boris Johnson to follow the US, which has squeezed quarantine to only five days for anyone without symptoms.

Around 1.3million Britons are currently thought to be languishing under house arrest as the NHS, rail services and bin collections all buckle under the weight of staff absences.

One in ten NHS employees are estimated to be off sick or self-isolating, and Mr Johnson yesterday revealed plans are being drawn up to call in the Army if the crisis continues to worsen.

Some 10 out of 137 hospital trusts in England have declared 'critical incidents' in recent days — or eight per cent, signalling that they may struggle to deliver vital care to patients in the coming weeks because so many medics are off isolating. Seventeen hospitals in Greater Manchester have also started shelving operations. 

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For comparison, only about two per cent of transmission was recorded over the five to ten days after symptoms emerged.

Oxford University sources said the paper was shared with the Government before its results were released. It is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. It is unclear how many Covid cases the teams findings were based on. 

Neither team has yet to comment on whether isolation should be shortened in response to current pressures.

But UK Health Security Agency scientists say any further reduction would be 'counterproductive', arguing it risks sending infectious people back to work and spreading the virus further. 

The body, which replaced the now-defunct Public Health England, recommended the change because modelling showed it did not increase the risk of spreading the virus.

Professor Julian Tang, a virologist from Leicester University, told MailOnline: 'I think the studies' findings are right. Most transmission occurs just before and just after symptom onset.

'Up to five to seven days post symptom onset the immune response kicks in, and starts to decrease the viral load.'

He suggested NHS workers could be allowed to return to their jobs from seven days after developing symptoms, regardless of whether they had tested positive. 

'If they are a healthcare worker and they are going to be wearing masks at work all day, [the risk of transmission] may not matter much,' Professor Tang added.

'If they are a teacher going back to school to teach in a class of mostly vaccinated and masked children, it may not matter much.'

Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline research suggests 'the large majority of Covid infections are transmitted between two days before to three days after symptom onset'. 

'That doesn't mean infection after that is impossible just very unlikely,' he said. 

'Some risk remains for longer than five days but it is so small that continuing isolation beyond five days, whether or not LFD positive, is probably not justified except when in Contact with particularly vulnerable people,' Professor Hunter added. 

Dr Alex Crozier, a researcher at University College London, told MailOnline the UK should not rely on lateral flow tests for its isolation policy, as they can 'often take much longer than 10 days to materialise and we risk over-isolating people and exacerbating staffing issues this way'.

'A lot of vaccinated people will continue to test positive beyond day five to seven via LFT, even once their symptoms have resolved and the risk of onwards transmission is really quite low,'  he said.

The vast majority of the population is double-jabbed and 'many of us even have four or five doses of immunity now', Dr Crozier said.  

'We therefore have to interpret the results of antigen tests differently and carefully in three-dosed individuals,' he said.

Dr Crozier added: 'People testing negative a few days into symptoms doesn't necessarily always mean they aren't infectious, and testing positive post day five doesn't necessarily mean they are significantly infectious.

'There is a trade-off to be had and it is all about balancing different risks.

'After testing positive, if symptoms have resolved for more than 24 to 48 hours and people have received the booster vaccine, we might be able to release them earlier than day 10, regardless of LFT status. 

'If they still have some symptoms on day five then that is a different story. For critical roles, we can now probably move to a more flexible isolation policy, based on clinical expertise and context, not relying on just LFT status and blanket rules.' 

Julian Jessop, economics fellow at the think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs, told MailOnline that the case for easing the rules for mandatory isolation periods is 'further is strengthening by the day'.  

He said: 'Scientists are now more confident that the Omicron variant is milder, and that the risks of transmission drop off sharply within a few days. This reduces the benefits of lengthy isolation periods.

'On the other side of the equation, the surge in the number testing positive for Covid is adding to the costs of isolation, since many more people are having to stay at home.'

Mr Jessop added: 'It is hard to see how widespread staff shortages of 10 per cent or more will not have a crushing impact on output. Even just a 2 per cent reduction in activity would cost the economy about £4 billion every month.

'It might be worth taking a large but temporary hit to GDP to protect health, and this could be better for the economy too in the long run. However, long isolation periods seem to be doing more harm than good – including to the NHS itself.

'It is increasingly clear that the biggest threat to the NHS is a shortage of staff, due to the isolation rules, rather than a surge in the number of people who are seriously ill with Covid.

'The UK government should therefore not hesitate to follow the trend elsewhere in Europe, the US and South Africa, and continue to ease the isolation rules. Reducing the minimum period from 7 to 5 days would be an obvious next step.'

Calling for self-isolation periods to be reduced, Matthew Taylor, the head of the NHS Confederation which represents trusts, said two more days could be shaved off.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme yesterday: 'On the one hand we do need to try to get staff back to work as soon as possible.

'Hospitals who have declared critical incidents, for example, are essentially reaching out to staff who are on leave, on rest days or even recently retired and asking them to come back to wards, so the situation is desperate — any way of getting staff back into hospital is a good thing.

'But on the other hand, if staff come back into hospital and are infectious, that's completely counterproductive because that is going to mean more sickness in the hospital and for staff, so this can't be led by politics or blind hope — it has to be led by the science.'

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Care home boss says staff who have Covid but no symptoms should NOT have to isolate

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