People who have tested positive for Covid in England can now leave self-isolation after five days following two negative lateral flow tests (LFTs).
The changes to self-isolation rules are part of government plans to try and reduce staffing pressures amid the Omicron wave.
Under the new rules, people can leave isolation at the start of the sixth day after two negative LFT results - one on day five and the other on day six.
Previous rules allowed people to leave on day seven following two negative results. Without tests, the isolation period remains at 10 days.
The new rules say people must remain in isolation until they have had negative tests on two consecutive days.
People leaving isolation on day six have still been advised to wear a mask and limit close contact with others in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces.
The government said they should work from home if possible and keep contact with anyone at higher risk of severe illness to a minimum.
Announcing the policy last week, Sajid Javid told MPs that UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) data showed “around two-thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five.”
The government now says around 7 per cent of people are still infectious following two negative tests on day five and six.
But Mr Javid said it was a “balanced and proportionate approach to restore extra freedoms and reduce the pressure on essential public services over the winter.”
The health secretary added: “It is crucial people only stop self-isolating after two negative tests to ensure you are not infectious.” He said vaccinations remain the best defence against Covid and urged people to get jabbed.
Government guidance says anyone who has a high temperature, a new, continuous cough or a loss or change in sense of smell or taste should self-isolate immediately and take a Covid test.
If you live with or have been in contact with someone who has Covid, you do not need to self-isolate if you are fully vaccinated, under 18, taking part in an approved Covid vaccine trial, or are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons.
Ministers hope cutting the self-isolation period will help reduce widespread staffing pressures, including in the NHS.
But the Trades Union Congress has warned it will not fix the country’s “sick pay problem”. It said workers on low or no sick pay face the “impossible choice” of self-isolating and facing hardship, or putting food on the table but potentially spreading the virus.
The new rules come amid reports the government’s plan B measures could be scrapped from 26 January. People would no longer be required to work from home, and Covid passports would no longer be compulsory for large gatherings and nightclubs.
It’s thought Boris Johnson could make an announcement on easing restrictions within days as part of a raft of new policies as he tries to survive the publication of senior civil servant Sue Gray’s report into alleged lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street.
Labour leader Keir Starmer said he hoped the rules could be lifted “as soon as possible”, but warned the prime minister not to make the move just to distract from so-called “partygate”.
Mr Starmer told the BBC: “If it’s the right thing to lift those restrictions, we will vote to lift [them].
“But we’ll be led by the science as we always have been, not by the politics of propping up a broken prime minister.”