ealth officials have clarified that the recommended Covid self-isolation period in the US is shorter than in the UK, at a time when the Prime Minister is considering reducing it to five days.
The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) previously said the isolation period was effectively the same in both countries.
It said the recommended minimum of six full days in the UK was counted from the onset of symptoms, while in the US, the five-day isolation began from the day of a positive test, which could be several days after the first symptoms.
However, the UKHSA has updated its blog post, which now states: “In the UK our advice is to self-isolate for at least six full days from the point at which you have symptoms or get a positive test, whichever is first.”
It continued: “In the United States, the advice is to isolate for at least five full days from the same point.”
And the blog post concludes: “We believe that allowing people to leave self-isolation after two negative lateral flow tests on days six and seven is the optimal approach at present. This supports people who are unlikely to be infectious to go back to work and resume other activities, but continues to protect the wider population from infection.
The UKHSA said it made the correction after the US CDC health protection agency clarified that its isolation period started when symptoms first appeared.
The CDC cut the recommended isolation period there to five days in December.
Boris Johnson has been facing calls from MPs and business chiefs to follow suit in the UK in order to help ease staff absences across the economy and public services.
On Monday, the Prime Minister said he would “act according to the science” on potentially reducing the time period to five days.
The period has already been cut from 10 days to seven, as long as the person in isolation has negative lateral flow test results, and Mr Johnson’s official spokesman said “if it is possible to go further then we will do so”.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is among ministers keen on the economic benefits of reducing the period to five days, according to the Daily Telegraph, while Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has suggested the move could help ease staffing problems.
The UKHSA is leading work on the issue along with the Government’s Covid taskforce based in the Cabinet Office.
On the change to its blog post, a UKHSA spokesperson said: “We updated our blog following clarification from the CDC on their isolation guidance on January 4.
“Our current guidance of releasing individuals from isolation on day seven with two negative lateral flow test results taken 24 hours apart has a low risk of an individual being released infectious – similar to the risk of being infectious after 10 days isolation.
“In the US people are asked to isolate for five full days, in the UK the advice is to isolate for six full days.”