The Government has updated its guidance to reflect the new self-isolation rules which will apply from 16 August 2021, under which those who have been fully vaccinated will not have to self-isolate if they are a contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 – see Guidance for households with possible or confirmed Covid-19 cases and Guidance for contacts of people with confirmed Covid-19. This article summarises the new rules.
What do the new rules provide?
From 16 August, the self-isolation rules will be eased to provide that individuals who live in the same household as someone with Covid-19 symptoms or with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 and individuals who are identified as a contact of someone who has tested positive for Covid-19 (see below) will no longer be required to self-isolate if any of the following apply:
- they are fully vaccinated;
- they are below the age of 18 years 6 months;
- they have taken part in or are currently part of an approved Covid-19 vaccine trial; or
- they are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
An individual is considered to be fully vaccinated if they have been vaccinated with an MHRA approved Covid-19 vaccine in the UK, and at least 14 days have passed since they received the recommended doses of that vaccine.
The new guidance states that individuals who are not legally required to self-isolate are advised to have a PCR test as soon as possible, but this does not appear to be a requirement. In addition, there is no need for such individuals to self-isolate while waiting for their test result.
Contacts who do not meet any of the above criteria are still required to self-isolate for 10 days following the day that their household member’s symptoms started (or, if they do not have symptoms, the day they took their test) or, for non-household contacts, for 10 days from the day after they last had contact with the person who tested positive.
Nor is there any change to the self-isolation requirements for people with symptoms of possible Covid-19 and those who have received a positive Covid-19 test result. Individuals who develop symptoms at any time, even if these are mild, must self-isolate immediately even if they are fully vaccinated.
There is separate guidance for those working in health and social care settings.
Who counts as a contact?
A contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, any time from 2 days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms (or, if they did not have any symptoms, from 2 days before the date of their test), and up to 10 days after. The definition covers anyone who has had any of following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19:
- face-to-face contact, including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre;
- been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact; and
- been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day).
A person may also be a contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle or plane as a person who has tested positive for Covid-19. An interaction through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen is not usually considered to be a contact, as long as there has been no other contact such as those in the list above.
Advice for vaccinated contacts
The government advises that, as well as getting a PCR test, individuals who do not have to self-isolate as contacts should consider taking certain steps to help reduce the risk of transmission, such as:
- limiting close contact with people outside their household, especially in enclosed spaces;
- wearing a face covering in enclosed spaces and where they are unable to maintain social distancing;
- limiting contact with anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable; and
- taking part in regular LFD testing.
Individuals are advised to follow these precautions until 10 full days after their most recent contact with the person who has tested positive for Covid-19 (or, if that person is in the individual’s household, for the duration of that person’s self-isolation).
Steps for employers
We recommend that employers update their workforce on the new rules on self-isolation.
Some employers may wish to ask employees to tell them if they have had a relevant contact but do not need to self-isolate due to their vaccination status. Employers could also consider whether to instruct such employees to take a PCR test, even though this is not a legal requirement.
Some employers may want to ask employees about their vaccination status so that they know in advance who would and would not be required to self-isolate as a contact in the event that someone in the workplace tested positive. Our Coronavirus FAQs explain the issues that arise for employers who wish to ask employees about their vaccination status – see question 8.
It may also be a good opportunity to remind employees about the rules around self-isolation if an employee has symptoms or tests positive for Covid-19.
How we can help
We are in the process of updating our Coronavirus FAQs to reflect the new self-isolation rules that apply from 16 August 2021.
You may also find our HR Guide: Covid-19 and absence management procedures useful. This provides a framework to help you make decisions about changes to your current absence management procedures, in order to better manage Covid-19 related absences. Click here to download this guide for free.
Make UK members who need advice in relation to Covid-19 measures and their employment implications should contact their regular adviser. We can provide advice and assistance to non-members on a consultancy basis – if you would like further information on our services, please call us on 0808 168 5874, or email [email protected]