COVID quarantine could be slashed from ten days to just five if daily lateral flow tests are used, Sage has said.
Under a new scheme suggested by government scientists, the tests could help people who have come into close contact with Covid sufferers to limit the amount of time they must quarantine.
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Sage plans for early release could be “as effective” as the current systemCredit: Getty
If the schemes go ahead, people would need to get a negative result consecutively to be released early, with the papers noting this could be “as effective” as the current system.
At the moment, government guidelines require anyone who has been in close contact with a Covid case – within two metres up to two days before they test positive – to isolate at home for 10 days.
They cannot quit isolation even if they test negative for Covid before the 10 days end.
According to a senior Sage source the testing regime was “plausible” but claimed it was not something the government was currently looking at.
They added the study made big assumptions, namely that people would be less likely to break isolation rules if they were given the five-day testing option.
What is a Covid lateral flow test and how accurate are the results?
The Covid lateral flow tests are able to return results in just 30 minutes and can be done from the comfort of your own home.
It uses a swab from a patient’s nose or throat to quickly determine if they are infected with coronavirus.
They are being used to check if people have the virus but are not showing symptoms.
It is hoped that by identifying these people, and asking them to isolate at home if they test positive, the virus will stop spreading as quickly.
Around one in three people with coronavirus don’t have symptoms, which means they could be spreading the virus without knowing.
The lateral flow tests don’t need to be sent off to the lab – like the PCR tests used by the NHS for those with symptoms – making them ideal for “on the spot” results.
Lateral flow tests are not as reliable as the PCR tests used by the NHS.
The Department of Health says because the tests have been rigorously assessed by scientists, it means they are “accurate, reliable and successfully identify those with Covid-19 who don’t show symptoms”.
But the tests were not designed to look for Covid in people without symptoms, but for people who did have symptoms and it means the results are not 100 per cent correct.
The Government website states that “when a person has low levels of virus in their system, lateral flow tests are less sensitive than some of the other tests we use, such as PCR tests”.
Getting a negative result does not mean a person is not infected with Covid-19 – so even with a negative result, people still need to follow social distancing guidance.
Free NHS Covid testing is always available for people who are showing signs of the virus – such as a cough, high temperature or loss of taste and smell.
And they warned people actually might be less inclined to receive a swab, which are often uncomfortable, every day.
Sage spin-off group SPI-M-O modelled whether testing every day for five days could be a viable alternative to the current quarantine regime.
They said the scheme could be “more effective” in reducing the spread of the virus because it could detect cases earlier and get them to self-isolate.
It would also pick up asymptomatic infections – which trigger no symptoms – that make up at least a third of cases according to official estimates.
Their paper said: “Assuming a three-day delay for contact notification and sending of test kits, five days of sequential testing may match the effectiveness of 10-day quarantine for the same level of adherence to each.
“If adherence was better using daily contact testing than quarantine, then more transmission can be averted.”
It added: “There is little benefit to additional days of sequential testing beyond a certain point.”
The papers made no mention of whether this system could also be used for those returning from foreign countries.
Ministers cut the self-isolation period from two weeks to 10 days in December, amid warnings the period was too long and many people were not following the order.