SELF-isolation rules could be relaxed for those who have recovered from Covid – to ease pressure on the NHS, an expert has claimed.

Professor Neil Ferguson, whose modelling led to the first lockdown, said people who have fought off coronavirus are at less risk of getting it again.

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Self-isolation rules could be relaxed for those who have beaten Covid, an expert has suggestedCredit: Getty Images – Getty

He suggested that it could prevent many healthcare workers – who are routinely exposed to the virus – from going off sick or self-isolating.

It comes after a major study, published today, found those who have beaten Covid have similar levels of protection as vaccinated patients.

The first report from Public Health England's Siren study found prior infection cut the chances of falling unwell again by up to 90 per cent.

Experts said protection for recovered Brits was “at least as good” as that given by the Covid jab.

REDUCED RISK

Speaking about the study today, Prof Ferguson suggested it could mean the requirement to isolate after coming into contact with a Covid case could be relaxed for people who have recently had the virus.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Those people who have had the virus before are at less risk of getting infected and cumulatively slow the spread.

"What it means for individuals is harder to say. We have a real problem at the moment, for instance with healthcare workers – a lot of healthcare workers getting infected and off work.

"Whether we can relax restrictions temporarily on requirements for isolation for people who have had a positive PCR test in the last few months is a question for policy makers but it could ease pressures on, for instance, the health service."

Beating Covid means you could face RELAXED isolation rules thanks to immunity

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Professor Neil Ferguson said that the requirement to self-isolate could be eased for those who have recently recovered from CovidCredit: Reuters

However, Downing Street has ruled out changing the current self-isolation requirements.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We've been quite clear that if you're contacted by Test and Trace, if you're a close contact of somebody else who has received a positive test, that you should self-isolate. That hasn't changed."  

In the largest study of its kind, involving nearly 21,000 NHS workers, researchers found the “vast majority” had immunity against the virus six months after initially catching it.  

Experts said the “strongly encouraging” results suggest protection likely lasts much longer.

And combined with vaccination may help ease Britain out of lockdown sooner than previously hoped.

PLATEAUING

Offering more hope today, Prof Ferguson also said some parts of England are showing a plateau in Covid cases, while the rate of growth across the country as a whole is slowing.

The senior epidemiologist, who quit as a government adviser after breaking quarantine to see his lover, said the current wave of the epidemic may be coming under control in some regions.

"I think it's much too early to say exactly when case numbers are going to start coming down, but in some NHS regions in England and in Wales there's sign of plateauing," he said.

London in particular is seeing a drop in the number of positive coronavirus tests, alongside the South East, he said.

Beating Covid means you could face RELAXED isolation rules thanks to immunity

 

"At the moment, it looks like in London in particular, and a couple of other regions – the South East and East of England – (that) hospital admissions may even have plateaued, though it's hard to tell they're coming down.

"It has to be said this is not being seen everywhere.

"Both case numbers and hospital admissions are going up in many other areas but, overall, at a national level we're seeing the rate of growth slow."

Prof Ferguson, who is director of the Medical Research Council's Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, said he would expect to see case numbers "continue to come down slowly at a national level" but with regional variations.

"It will take longer though for hospital admissions – daily admissions – to start coming down and even longer for hospital bed occupancy to come down," he said.

In some NHS regions in England and in Wales there's sign of plateauing

Professor Neil FergusonImperial College London

Asked how many more weeks of rising hospital admissions and deaths the UK could be looking at, he said: "It critically depends on whether the lockdown we're in the moment will actually control growth in all areas.

"But I would hope that hospital admissions might plateau, instead of keep going up, some time in the next week.

"Hospital bed occupancy may continue to rise slowly for up to two weeks and deaths maybe even for longer.

"We're going to be well over 1,000 deaths a day, even measured by the date people die rather than the date deaths are reported, before numbers start coming down."

GRIM FIGURES

Prof Ferguson said the total number of deaths in the UK "unfortunately is going to be well over 100,000, there's nothing we can do about that now".

Only about 20 per cent of the population has been infected so far, which had resulted in 100,000 deaths, he said.

"So we have to get to very high levels of vaccine coverage in those vulnerable groups before we can reduce the risk of having basically the same number of deaths again.

"If we only get up to 70 per cent coverage in in the elderly, for instance, that still leaves 30 per cent unprotected plus everybody else.

"We can still get a very large epidemic, which unfortunately could kill many, many people, so what the modelling and all the analysis and all the groups feeding into Sage says is, we need to be very cautious in how we relax restrictions and try to ensure we get as high a vaccine coverage as possible."

Beating Covid means you could face RELAXED isolation rules thanks to immunity

Asked if there could be restrictions for many months to come, he said: "Yes, and we can't predict all of these things in advance.

"We couldn't have predicted this new variant coming up, but the new variant without doubt will make the relaxation of restrictions more difficult because it is substantially more transmissible.

"So it will be a gradual process to the autumn."

It comes as Health Secretary Matt Hancock said three million coronavirus vaccines have now been administered across the UK.

He tweeted that he was "delighted" with the news, adding: "We're accelerating the Covid vaccine rollout across the UK."

Meanwhile, some large high street pharmacies, including Boots and Superdrug, began rolling out Covid-19 vaccines.

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SELF-isolation rules could be relaxed for those who have recovered from Covid – to ease pressure on the NHS, an expert has claimed.