Scrapping self-isolation is political statement not based on science – expert

Professor Tim Spector said he believed that other countries will stick with four or five days of isolation for people with Covid.

10 February 2022

Boris Johnson’s scrapping of self-isolation rules is a political statement rather than one based on science, an expert has said.

Professor Tim Spector, who runs the Zoe Covid Study at King’s College London, said the Government intended to show that Britain is the first country moving out of the pandemic but suggested this was an “act of irresponsibility”, with cases still at around 200,000 per day.

He told Times Radio: “This is more a political type of statement rather than a scientific one, and I think we have to really look at this in the context, both of politics and science, and also what’s happening, because there is some rationale to this and other countries are doing things similar, but it’s clearly a race for the Government to say that Britain is first, Britain is the first to come out of this, Britain has conquered Omicron, our booster programme is world beating etc, etc.

“But I think what they’re relying on is data that is highly disputed scientifically that, really, the UK has come out of this faster and better than anyone else.”

He said hospital admissions and deaths are down but figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the Zoe app show the country is still at more than 200,000 cases a day “and we’re still close to where we were on January 1 and that peak we had”.

He added: “It’s definitely not over – your risk of getting it is huge – and to suddenly give the wrong message, by saying, ‘We’re getting rid of all restrictions, if you’ve got an infection don’t bother isolating’, which is sort of implied but not said, that is totally wrong.

“So, other countries might be doing this, but they have a much stronger public health message and a much better-educated public about the pandemic which we lack here in this country.”

Prof Spector said he believed that other countries will stick with four or five days of isolation for people with Covid.

“They won’t be saying to everyone, ‘Don’t bother, just go and infect your workmates’, which seems crazy,” he said.

Asked if Boris Johnson’s announcement was “an act of irresponsibility”, he said: “I think it is; giving the impression that Britain, that the UK, has beaten Covid, I think it’s totally the wrong way to do it.”

It comes as Scottish ministers have called on the Prime Minister for more clarity after they claim he failed to give them “appropriate notice” on his latest plan to lift the final domestic Covid restrictions in England.

The current self-isolation rules in England expire on March 24, but Boris Johnson told MPs at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday that he expected to lift restrictions “a full month early”.

Mr Johnson said he will present his plan for “living with Covid” when Parliament returns from a short recess on February 21, with an aim of lifting the requirement to self-isolate within days of that.

In response, a spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said the UK Government “failed to provide devolved nations with appropriate notice to consider implications ahead of the announcement by the Prime Minister”.

Elsewhere, travel firms are expecting to see a rise in bookings as the UK’s rules for arriving travellers ease from 4am on Friday.

People who are fully vaccinated will no longer need to take a post-arrival lateral flow test, which typically costs around £20 per person.

The requirement for unvaccinated arrivals to self isolate will also be dropped, but they will still need to take tests.

On Wednesday, former minister Lord Frost, who highlighted coronavirus restrictions as one of his reasons for quitting in December, said the Prime Minister’s announcement was “extremely welcome” and added: “I hope the Government will also make clear we will not go down the road of coercive lockdowns ever again.”

Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, said: “We are the freest country in Europe thanks to the strong defences we have built.

“We’re learning to live with Covid.”

The move will see Covid-19 treated in a similar way to other infectious diseases such as flu, with people encouraged to stay at home if they are ill.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.”

Figures published on Wednesday show Covid-19 infection levels have risen in three of the four UK nations, with only Wales showing a fall.

Scotland and Northern Ireland both saw an increase last week in the number of people in private households likely to have coronavirus, according to the ONS.

England also saw a rise, though the trend there is “uncertain”, the ONS said.

The figures show there is still a high prevalence of the virus across the country, with infections remaining well above pre-Christmas levels.

About one in 19 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to February 5, or 2.8 million people, up from one in 20, or 2.6 million people, in the week to January 29.

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