The calls for reduced isolation periods come as concerns for the UK health services and crippling staff shortages continue to mount. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention halved the quarantine period for positive COVID-19 cases which were asymptomatic infections, and recommended that those returning to work with a shortened isolation period wear masks for the remainder of the original ten-day quarantine period.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said: “CDC’s updated recommendations for isolation and quarantine balance what we know about the spread of the virus and the protection provided by vaccination and booster doses.”
The US’s top infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, said that the measure could ease the pressure of staff shortages on various industries, particularly those working in the travel and transport sectors.
The same pressure on services is seen across the Atlantic in the UK, as businesses, schools, transport operators and healthcare see chunks of staff ill or isolating.
Doctors have previously warned that around 40 percent of NHS staff in London are isolating in line with current guidelines and that nearly 4,000 did not go to work last week due to COVID-19, according to The Times.
Patricia Marquis, the England director of the Royal College of Nursing told The Guardian that staff shortages due to the sheer number of people isolating will spell tough choices on what services can carry on functioning.
She said: “Services are already really stretched and it won’t take a lot – either further staff absences or increasing numbers of patients needing to be seen because the hospitals are full – to really push the services over the edge.”
She added that it won’t just be hospitals that are overwhelmed by staff absences: “Limiting the number of community services that are available will possibly need to be considered.”
This backdrop has turned up the heat on the Prime Minister to emulate the American model, and cut the isolation times for asymptomatic cases.
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Former Cabinet minister Theresa Villiers told the Mail: “The government should look seriously at reducing mandatory isolation periods.”
Particular pressure has been exerted by the business community, which will be on the Prime Minister’s mind as he weighs up his options.
UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls counselled ministers to “review and act on the latest CDC data to keep the economy moving, address staff concerns in education and health and avoid punitive restrictions and lockdown.”
However, the government has side-stepped the debate, maintaining that there are no “current” plans to cut down the isolation period further than the seven days introduced last week.
Chloe Smith MP, Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work said the current rules in the UK for isolation were “the right” approach, despite the CDC’s move.
She told the BBC on Wednesday: “There are no current plans in England to change that period.”
She added: “Of course, we have actually only recently taken it down from 10 to seven, and we want to look at that – we want to make sure that that is working as we believe it ought to.
“We think the current period, therefore, is the right one, so we haven’t any plans to change that further.”