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Self-isolation period for positive Covid-19 cases in England to be reduced to 5 full days

The Government has announced that, with effect from Monday 17 January 2022, individuals in England who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be able to end their self-isolation after five full days, provided they receive negative results in two consecutive LFD tests. Below, we summarise the change and its implications for employers.

Reduction in minimum period of self-isolation

Currently, the standard self-isolation period for an individual in England who tests positive for Covid-19 is 10 full days starting from the day after their symptoms began or, if they do not have symptoms, the day they took their test (whether that is an LFD or a PCR test). However, the individual can end their self-isolation after 7 days if they receive negative results in two consecutive LFD tests and they do not have a high temperature. The first LFD test can be taken at any time from the sixth day of the individual's self-isolation period and the second must be taken at least 24 hours later. (If the individual receives a positive result in the first LFD test, they must wait at least 24 hours before trying again.)

From Monday, however, the individual will be able to take the first of these two LFD tests on day five, with the second test to be taken on the morning of day six. Provided both tests are negative, the individual will be permitted to stop self-isolating “at the start of day six”.

Announcing the reduction in the minimum period of self-isolation in Parliament, the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, stated that the measure was intended to maximise activity in the economy and education, while minimising the risk of infectious people leaving isolation. The Government is relying on data from the UK Health Security Agency indicating that around two thirds of people with confirmed Covid-19 are no longer infectious by the end of day five of their self-isolation.

Detailed guidance on how the changes will operate has not yet been published by the Government.

Territorial scope of the change

At the time of writing, this change is only due to be applied in England. The devolved administrations have separate powers over Covid-19 related measures in their respective countries and it is not yet clear whether Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will amend their self-isolation rules in the same way.

Rules for contacts of a confirmed Covid-19 case

Note that the rules for individuals who live in the same household as someone with confirmed Covid-19 and those who are identified as close contacts of someone with confirmed Covid-19 have not changed – see Question 17 of our Covid-19 FAQs.

Employment implications

With many companies currently experiencing staffing difficulties due to high numbers of employees having to self-isolate, employers are likely to welcome the reduction in the minimum self-isolation period. Employees who have tested positive for Covid-19, and who feel well enough to work but are unable to work from home, will be able to return to the workplace sooner than is currently the case provided their LFD tests are negative on days 5 and 6 of their isolation period. 

In order to comply with their general duty under health and safety law to take all reasonably practicable steps to ensure a safe working environment, employers may wish to see evidence of an employee’s negative LFD tests before allowing them to return to the workplace. If an employer wished to take a more cautious approach and continue to require employees to self-isolate for 7 (or even 10) days following a positive Covid-19 test, they would need to pay the employee their normal pay from the date on which, under the Government guidance, the employee would have been permitted to end their self-isolation and return to the workplace (as they would then be considered ready, willing and able to work).

Note that the reduction in the minimum self-isolation period for those who have tested positive for Covid-19 will not have any practical impact where employees are able to work from home. If an employee is well enough to do so, they can continue working from home (and receiving their normal pay) throughout their self-isolation period. If they are too unwell to work, they would be entitled to SSP (and company sick pay, if applicable).

How we can help

Our Covid-19 FAQs are regularly maintained to keep employers up-to-date on all HR and employment related Covid-19 issues. We will be updating them at the start of next week to reflect the changes discussed above when they take effect.

Make UK members who need advice in relation to managing employees’ Covid-19 self-isolation should contact their regular adviser.

We can also 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].

News / Make UK / Coronavirus