A senior Cabinet minister broke ranks today to back a cut to the Covid quarantine period to five days.
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi said taking two days off the current seven-day isolation period would be ‘helpful’ in getting the UK back on its feet as Omicron rattles through the population.
Schools and other sectors are under huge pressure as the spring term starts with warnings over a lack of staff due to the high number of infections sweeping across the UK.
It has prompted calls, now backed by the senior minister, to follow the US example and cut the isolation period down to keep society and the economy running.
In an interview with the Sunday Times Mr Zahawi said the UK was ‘witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic’.
He added: ‘The UK Health Security Agency have said they want to review it, so we will stick to seven days, but if they review it and say they will bring it down to five days that is even better for me, it’s even more helpful.’
He doubled down on the idea on Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday programme today, saying: ‘It would certainly help mitigate some of the pressures on schools, on critical workforce and others.
‘But I would absolutely be driven by advice from the experts, the scientists, on whether we should move to five days from seven days. What you don’t want is to create the wrong outcome by higher levels of infection.’
He added: ‘I hope we will be one of the first major economies to demonstrate to the world how you transition from pandemic to endemic, and then deal with this however long it remains with us, whether that’s five, six, seven, 10 years.’
Mr Zahawi’s comments came after the UK passed 150,000 Covid deaths. It is the seventh country to pass the milestone – following the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru.
It came as it was reported free lateral flow tests are set to be axed as the Government prepares the country to live with coronavirus without ongoing restrictions.
Boris Johnson is set to announce the measure within weeks, the Sunday Times reported, with free tests limited to high-risk settings such as care homes, hospitals and schools, and to people with symptoms.
But Mr Zahawi has insisted there are no plans to end universal free lateral flow tests following criticism over reports the move was being considered.
He told Sky’s Trevor Phillips on Sunday ‘they will continue to be available for free’.
‘I saw that story this morning, which I was slightly puzzled by because I don’t recognise it at all. This is absolutely not where we are at,’ he added.
Treat Covid like the FLU: Ex-chief of vaccine taskforce calls for ‘new targeted strategy’
Coronavirus should be treated like the flu and Britain’s mass jabs programme should be scrapped after the booster campaign is complete, the ex-chief of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said.
Dr Clive Dix, who was chairman of the government agency from December 2020 until April, called for a return to a ‘new normality’ and a volte-face on the approach throughout the pandemic.
He said the country needs to learn to manage the disease rather than focus on halting the spread of the virus amid hope the Omicron variant is even less severe than the flu.
The latest vaccination figures showed that 22,526 first dose jabs, 32,455 second doses and 207,801 booster jabs were delivered on Friday. It brings the total number of people to have received at least two doses of a vaccine to 47,632,483, whilst 35,273,945 have received a booster jab.
It comes as Britain’s daily Covid figures fell for the third day in a row on Saturday, official data showed in a sign the worst of the latest wave may be over.
UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) figures show there were 146,390 new positive tests over the last 24 hours, down 18.5 per cent on the previous week’s figure of 179,637.
It marked the biggest week-on-week fall since the start of November, well before the supermutant strain sent cases soaring across the country.
But the number of people dying with the virus continued to increase, with 313 fatalities recorded — up 103 per cent on last week’s number.
More than £6billion has been spent on mass testing using lateral flow devices.
They have been seen as a key way of suppressing the virus and have given confidence to people to safely mixed with their loved ones, particularly around Christmas as cases of the Omicron soared.
But the Sunday Times report suggested there is concerns in Whitehall over their costs.
A senior Whitehall source told The Sunday Times: ‘I don’t think we are in a world where we can continue to hand out free lateral flow tests to everybody for evermore.
‘It’s likely we will move to a scenario where there is less testing but where we have a capacity to ramp it up if necessary, such as in the winter.’
However Labour’s shadow health secretary Wes Streeting branded the move ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’.
‘This would be the wrong decision at the wrong time. Testing is absolutely crucial for keeping infections under control and avoiding the need for further restrictions that impact on our lives, livelihoods, and liberties,’ he said.
‘This additional cost will also hit families at a time when they face a cost of living crisis. It means people simply won’t take them, putting others at risk.’
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned Mr Johnson that axing universal free lateral flow tests would be an ‘utterly wrongheaded’ approach to dealing with coronavirus.
Ms Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had not signed up to the move, but if Mr Johnson was ‘really considering this’ it would be ‘utterly wrongheaded’.
‘Hard to imagine much that would be less helpful to trying to ‘live with’ Covid,’ she tweeted.
She questioned what would happen to funding for UK nations for testing under the Barnett formula if the Westminster Government went ahead with the move, adding: ‘Testing so vital, we’d have to consider continued funding but it would then come from existing budgets.’
The Department of Health and Social Care is yet to comment, but a Government source disputed the report and said it was too early to say what the future holds for free lateral flows.
A Government spokeswoman did not address whether access to free tests will be scaled back in the future, and instead said: ‘Everyone can continue to get free tests and we are continuing to encourage people to use rapid tests when they need them.
‘Testing continues to play an important role in helping people live their day-to-day lives, keep businesses running and keep young people in school.’
Despite case rates hitting record highs after the emergence of Omicron, hospitalisation and deaths have not followed the same trajectory, with this being attributed to vaccination and the new strain being believed to be less deadly.
Professor Mike Tildesley, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said on Saturday that the variant is possibly the ‘first ray of light’ in Covid-19 becoming endemic and easier to live with.
‘The thing that might happen in the future is you may see the emergence of a new variant that is less severe and, ultimately, in the long term, what happens is Covid becomes endemic and you have a less severe version,’ he told Times Radio.
‘It’s very similar to the common cold that we’ve lived with for many years.’
It comes after figures showed that more than 150,000 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.
More than 150,000 people have now died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic nearly two years ago.
Boris Johnson recognised the ‘terrible toll’ of coronavirus on the UK after official figures showed a further 313 deaths were reported in the Government’s daily data on Saturday, bringing the total since the pandemic began to 150,057.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the toll was a ‘dark milestone for our country’.
Jo Goodman, a co-founder of Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign, said the official figure of 150,000 coronavirus deaths being recorded was ‘yet another indictment of the Government’s handling of the pandemic’.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who sits on the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) said the total passed on Saturday, when an additional 313 deaths were announced, was an ‘absolute tragedy’ made worse because ‘many of them were avoidable if we had acted earlier in the first and second wave’.
With a total of 150,057 deaths by that way of measuring, the UK became the seventh country to pass the milestone, following the US, Brazil, India, Russia, Mexico and Peru. It means it is also the first in Europe.
But separate figures from the Office for National Statistics show there have now been 174,000 deaths registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
The new deaths were announced as the NHS continues to face significant strain from the Omicron variant and record high cases, though death rates are not as nearly as sharp as earlier in the pandemic because of vaccines and the new strain being believed to be milder.
Scientists also believe that Omicron could be less deadly even than the flu, meaning the pandemic could now finally be coming to an end.
MailOnline analysis showed Covid killed one in 33 people who tested positive at the peak of the devastating second wave last January, compared to just one in 670 now. But experts believe the figure could be even lower because of Omicron.
Source: Thanks msn.com