The self-isolation period for people who have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus could be reduced from the requirement of 14 days, ministers confirmed on Sunday.
Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis said a cut was being considered following reports that suggested people were failing to follow the two-week quarantine rules.
However, Mr Lewis told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show that officials were now looking at whether there was scope for a cut to the period in light of new information.
“It would be looking at whether we can assess that incubation period of the virus, how people are reacting once we know if they have the virus and making sure that people understand what the guidance is so they’re isolating for the right period of time to protect people in the community around them,” Mr Lewis said.
Reports on Sunday said ministers believed a cut from the current 14-day period to as few as seven days could produce an overall public health benefit because those told to isolate would be more likely to follow the imposed restrictions. There has been anecdotal evidence that people asked to spend two weeks away from others after contact with an infected person have quickly started disregarding the advice.
Mr Lewis referred, however, only to slight reductions in the period and insisted that no firm decisions had yet been taken and that the priority was to “follow the science”. The science had always assessed the necessary isolation period to be about 14 days, he said.
“It’s whether the science will allow us to narrow that a bit,” Mr Lewis added.
Figures last week showed that just 15 per cent of people tested received their results within 24 hours. While the faltering NHS track and trace system managed to reach 80 per cent of people who recorded a positive test, according to the figures, the system managed to make contact with just 60 per cent of their contacts.
Bernard Jenkin, the Conservative MP who chairs parliament’s public administration select committee, on Sunday called for Dido Harding, executive chair of the NHS Test and Trace programme, to stand down.
“It is the sense that there is a lack of an overall strategy which I think is at the heart of the problem,” Sir Bernard told Sky News.
He called for Lady Harding to be replaced by a senior military figure.
Rosena Allin-Khan, a Labour health spokesperson, agreed with the call for Lady Harding to stand down, saying on Sunday the executive chair’s position was “untenable”.