Experts fear that cases of COVID-19 will soar if the Government scraps laws requiring people in England to self-isolate if they test positive

COVID 3D

Health experts have warned that cases of COVID-19 will escalate if the Government goes ahead with plans to scrap the law requiring people in England to self-isolate if they test positive.

On 9 February 2022, Boris Johnson said that he would set out a ‘living with COVID’ strategy on 21 February, with the ‘expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions—including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive.’

Dr Stephen Griffin, Associate Professor at the University of Leeds School of Medicine, described the proposal as a ‘profound mistake’. Reacting to the announcement for the Science Media Centre, he warned that ‘blinding ourselves by removing testing and isolation robs us of the most fundamental means of controlling the spread of this virus.’

Plans risk virus spread 

Virologist Professor Lawrence Young, from the University of Warwick, said: ‘Removing the requirement for isolation in the face of high infection levels will inevitably result in increased spread of the virus.’

At Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday, Boris Johnson qualified his ambition to end the last domestic restrictions, saying that this would only take place ‘provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue.’

Restrictions to control the pandemic under the Coronavirus Act 2020 have been eased in England in recent months, and were due to expire, or be renewed, in March 2022.

Workplace pressures 

Some experts cautioned that removing the need to self-isolate could lead to public complacency about the risks of COVID-19, and result in people feeling compelled to return to the workplace when they were still infectious.

Dr James Gill, Honorary Clinical Lecturer at Warwick Medical School, said that he sees ‘no justifiable reason for the scrapping of this law.’ He said: ‘As a GP, a disturbingly frequent issue raised by patients is the difficulties they can face at work when it comes to taking sick leave.

‘Frequently, people feel as though they are forced either to carry on, or return to work before they have recovered properly.’

He said that the pandemic had ‘highlighted the risks associated with years of discouraging patients from taking sick leave.’

He also voiced concerns that ‘encouraging people to push themselves to return to full activities sooner’ could risk prolonging their recovery.

COVID-19 has not gone away

Dr Rachel McCloy, Associate Professor in the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, commented: ‘From a behavioural science perspective, the shift to removing the legal requirement to isolate if you have had a positive test is a concerning one, that comes with a range of risks.

‘Although we know that most people have followed guidance to be responsible—continuing to wear masks, and taking precautions by using lateral flow tests even during periods where they have not been required to do so in law—for those who have been more resistant, this change risks signalling they can feel free to take COVID infections less seriously.’

Chris Hopson, Chief Executive of NHS Providers, said that COVID-19 has not gone away. ‘As we saw with the sudden strike of the Omicron wave, there is a significant risk of further strains and surges, and the impact of long COVID also remains unclear at this stage.

‘It is important to ensure the NHS is able to provide high-quality care for everyone who needs it, by managing the risks to the services we provide, to the staff who deliver those services, and the patients that we care for.’

This article originally appeared on Medscape, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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