Opinion editorial from Public Health England North West: Self-isolation removed for double jabbed close contacts from 16 August

As the rules on self-isolation are set to change on Monday, Dr Andrew Furber, Regional Director of Public Health England North West, urges people not to drop their guard and carry on protecting each other.

This Monday marks another milestone in our quest to return to normality as the protection offered by the COVID-19 vaccine allows more freedom with the further relaxing of COVID-19 restrictions.

As over three quarters of adults are now fully vaccinated, the rules on self-isolating as a contact will change and from Monday, double jabbed individuals and under 18s will no longer be legally required to self-isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with COVID-19.

Instead, they will be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible. Those with a positive result will still need to self-isolate to protect themselves and others but, if negative, they can carry on as normal.

Please be mindful that those who have not had two doses of the vaccine, with the second dose at least two weeks ago, will still need to isolate if they are contacts.

To ensure young people can make the most of their education as restrictions continue to ease, the Government also plans to exempt those aged under 18 from self-isolation if they are a close contact.

These changes signal a positive step forward and one that will be welcomed by many, as adults and children will be free to return to work, attend school, and meet friends and family.

Vaccination is breaking the link between infection and serious illness and so restrictions are easing further. But we can’t rest on our laurels just yet. The pandemic is far from over and cases are still high and pose a serious public health risk.

Although two doses of vaccine will greatly reduce your own risk of becoming unwell, it is still possible to contract the virus and pass it to others.

Therefore, as we move forward and legal restrictions are lifted, we still need to carry on being careful and protecting each other while cases remain high.

It’s about striking the balance – keeping life moving whilst learning to live with coronavirus.

We can do this by using our judgement, managing our own risks and continuing those Hands Face Space Fresh Air protective measures that have kept many of us safe over the last 18 months and encourage our staff, patients and communities to do the same, to ensure we minimise the risk of the infection rates rising again.

I urge people in the North West to carry on:

  • Washing your hands or use hand sanitiser regularly
  • Wearing a face mask in crowded areas, such as public transport
  • Keeping your distance – as you never know who may be clinically vulnerable
  • Meeting others outside – as fresh air blows virus particles away – or if meeting indoors, open windows to let the fresh air in

Also, make sure you get both doses of the vaccine for maximum protection. We are calling on everyone to take up this offer, particularly in younger age groups where case rates are the highest and uptake hasn’t been as good.

Sixteen and 17-year-olds are now advised to get the first dose of the vaccine, so when the NHS gets in touch, please do come forward and ensure you are protected as you take your next steps in life.

Vaccination is also one of the best defences for pregnant women against severe COVID-19 infection and has been shown to be effective and safe for women carrying a baby, so it is crucial we continue to encourage women to come forward and be vaccinated to protect themselves and their babies.

Other things we can do include checking into venues when we go out. Download the NHS COVID-19 app at https://www.nhs.uk/apps-library/nhs-covid-19/ – which alerts us to our risk of coronavirus.

It’s also a good idea to get tested regularly – especially before meeting others – as one in three people with the virus are asymptomatic and could be spreading the virus unintentionally. Pick up rapid free tests from your local pharmacy or order online at https://www.gov.uk/order-coronavirus-rapid-lateral-flow-tests

As we learn to live with COVID-19 and get back to doing all the things we enjoy, embedding these actions into our everyday lives will help us to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep ourselves and our loved ones, families and communities safe.

For more information on the new self-isolation rules visit: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/self-isolation-to-be-eased-for-fully-vaccinated-adults-in-step-4