HEALTH experts have warned Covid isolation rules are doing “more harm than good” after a string of NHS trusts declared emergencies over staffing shortages.
Ministers have found themselves under mounting pressure to cut the self-isolation period because of the devastating knock on effect it is having on the health service and other workforces.
Before Christmas, Health Secretary Sajid Javid cut the number of isolation days from 10 to seven – provided people test negative on days six and seven.
Workers across the country have been stuck at home for a week due to the isolation measures, but experts are calling for it to be slashed again to help release pressure.
Half of the schools in England have already turned to supply teachers to get the cover they need because of staff absences.
The warnings come after it was revealed that Omicron could be 99 per cent less deadly than other Covid variants as daily cases fall for a third day in a row
A string of hugely positive studies show Omicron IS milder than other strains, with the first official UK report revealing the risk of hospitalisation is 50 to 70 per cent lower than with Delta.
Covid booster jabs protect against Omicron and offer the best chance to get through the pandemic, health officials have repeatedly said.
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Schools in England have already experienced staff absences of more than 10 per cent because of Covid.
NHS England data has revealed that 39,142 staff at hospital trusts in England were absent due to Covid on January 2, up from 24,632 the previous week.
Tory MP Sir Iain Duncan Smith said: “Areas of great national importance risk being plunged into crisis by the policy.
“As soon as people test negative on a lateral flow test two days in a row they should be allowed to return to work.”
Paul Hunter, professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, told the Daily Mail: “Almost half of transmissions happen before people develop symptoms and most will no longer be infectious three or four days after they become ill.
“Reducing the length of the isolation period to five days is unlikely to make much difference to the pandemic but would have a positive impact on the economy and the running of the NHS, transport and other vital services.”
A string of “critical incidents” have already been declared by NHS trusts across the country, with the army being called in to assist hospitals in London.
Around 150 military staff will also be on hand to help the North West Ambulance Service from next week.
According to the Health Service Journal (HSJ), staff absences across the entire NHS, including mental health trusts and other areas, for any reason including Covid-19, may be as high as 120,000.
The Government has been advised to priorities the rollout of the first booster jab in an attempt to help the healthcare staffing crisis.
But experts have revealed that boosters are winning the fight againt Omicron so no fourth jab is currently needed.
Figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that the vaccine booster is 90 per cent effective against admission to hospital from the Omicron variant for the over-65s after three months.
Meanwhile, protection for those with two doses dropped to about 70 per cent after three months and to 50 per cent after six months.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation says with no evidence of waning protection, it is too early to consider introducing fourth jabs.
Last month, Israel became the first nation to offer fourth doses to the over-60s and health workers.
But JCVI chairman Professor Wei Shen Lim said: “The booster dose is continuing to provide high levels of protection against severe disease, even for the most vulnerable older age groups.
“For this reason, the committee has concluded there is no immediate need to introduce a second booster dose. The data is highly encouraging and emphasises the value of a booster jab.”
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