COVID-19: key announcements on lockdown, self-isolation, and quarantine exemptions

On Friday 31 July Boris Johnson held a press conference, accompanied by the Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty. During the briefing, he announced a number of amendments to the lockdown easing plan, due to a rise in COVID-19 rates for the first time since May.

Here, we summarise the key talking points from the briefing, along with additional updates on the increase of the period of self-isolation, and those roles that are exempt from quarantine.

  • The weekly Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey of incidence in the community has shown an increase in incidence for the first time since May (up to 1 in 1500 from the figures of 1 in 1800 and 1 in 2000 recorded earlier in July).  They estimate that there are now around 4000 new infections each day (up from 3000 and 2000 recorded earlier in the month).
  • On 1 August, a number of higher-risk settings were due to reopen. These plans have now been postponed until at least 15 August. This affects businesses such as:

–  bowling alleys, skating rinks, casinos

– remaining close contact services

– indoor performance venues

– conference centre and sports venues which were due to embark on pilots

  • Weddings of up to 30 people will also not be permitted to start from 1 August (although the current rules will still apply).
  • The shift in policy giving employers discretion to require employees to return to COVID secure workplaces will still take effect from 1 August, as will the pause to shielding (the increase in incidence is likely to reinforce some employees’ objections to returning).
  • The wearing of face coverings will be extended to other indoor settings where you are likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet such as in museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship and this will be legally required from 8 August.

During questions, the following issues were covered:

  • The Prime Minister was pressed on whether it was right to have children return to school and employees back in work. He stated that getting children back to school was a national priority. He said that if people do not think their workplace is secure, the HSE are there to enforce it and the government “will come down hard on people who are not doing the right thing”.
  • Professor Whitty said the ONS data suggested that we have reached the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society and therefore if we want to do more of some things, we will have to do less of others and these will be difficult trade-offs. He stressed that “we have to be realistic about this. The idea that we can open up everything and keep the virus under control is clearly wrong”.

Quarantine exemptions

Under the original quarantine provisions, registered health and care professionals were included among the list of workers who did not need to self-isolate when returning to England. However, this was at a time when the Foreign Office was still recommending only essential travel could be undertaken.

Following the establishment of travel corridors, and as more people begin to holiday abroad, the government has removed this exemption and, from 31 July, all registered health and care professionals must lawfully self-isolate when returning to England from a country which is not on the travel corridor list.

Extended self-isolation period

On Thursday 30 July, as widely anticipated, the UK’s Chief Medical Officers announced an extension of the self-isolation period from 7 to 10 days for those who have COVID symptoms or a positive test result.

As the announcement came from all Chief Medical Officers, this looks like a national approach.

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