Nadhim Zahawi becomes first Cabinet minister to back cutting self-isolation period to five days

The Education Secretary has become the first Cabinet minister to publicly back calls for the self-isolation period to be reduced from seven days to five.

Nadhim Zahawi said he was happy to be led by the recommendation of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), but suggested it would be "even better" if the quarantine period was slashed.

Such a move could help to secure the return of hundreds of teachers to the classroom as schools continue to battle with high levels of staff shortages.

Boris Johnson has so far resisted pressure to change the rules as evidence grows that the dominant omicron variant is milder than previous forms of coronavirus.

Earlier this month, the UKHSA adjusted rules on self-isolation, saying that people who receive negative lateral flow test results on the sixth and seventh day of their quarantine period can leave early rather than remaining at home for 10 days.

Mr Zahawi pictured on a visit to Hammersmith Academy in London on Thursday. He has previously announced that school exams will go ahead as planned this summer after several years of disruption

Credit: Tim Hammond/No 10 Downing Street

Mr Zahawi told The Sunday Times he believes the country is "witnessing the transition of the virus from pandemic to endemic".

He said of the self-isolation rules: "The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) have said they want to review it, so we will stick to seven days but if they review it and say they will bring it down to five days that is even better for me, it’s even more helpful."

The Education Secretary has previously announced that school exams will go ahead as planned this summer after several years of disruption.

He told the newspaper: "The virus is going to be with us for maybe five or six years longer and we are going to continue to have variants but vaccines will get better and we are going to have polyvalent and multivalent vaccines by next year."

Economists have estimated that cutting the Covid self-isolation period from seven days to five would save the economy £300m in lost output in January.

Current rules could cost the economy almost £1bn next month as Covid infections soar, according to the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) – equal to a 0.5 per cent hit to monthly GDP.

Clive Dix says a 'new targeted strategy' beyond mass vaccination is needed to get the UK to a position of 'managing Covid' as an endemic virus

Credit: Fiona Hanson

Meanwhile, the former head of the UK’s vaccine taskforce has said that mass vaccination should be ended after the current booster campaign because Covid is developing into an endemic virus similar to the flu. 

Dr Clive Dix, who stepped down from his role as chairman of the government body last year, claimed a significant overhaul of the country’s approach to the virus was required to prepare for the "new normality".

He called on ministers to urgently throw their weight behind research into Covid immunity which extends beyond antibodies, such as B-cells and T-cells, which could be used to create vaccines for the vulnerable.

‘Mass population-based vaccination should now end’

"We need to analyse whether we use the current booster campaign to ensure the vulnerable are protected, if this is seen to be necessary," he told The Observer. "Mass population-based vaccination in the UK should now end."

Dr Dix said he supported the current booster vaccine drive, but told the newspaper a "new targeted strategy" was needed to get the UK to a position of "managing Covid" as an endemic virus.

"Firstly we should consider when we stop testing and let individuals isolate when they are not well and return to work when they feel ready to do so. In the same way we do in a bad influenza season," he said.

His intervention comes after the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) concluded that fourth doses were not currently required because more older people who had received boosters were still well-protected against omicron.

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