Northern Ireland news

Department of Health's reduction in Covid self-isolation period 'risky', virologist says

Dr Connor Bamford is research fellow in virology and antiviral immunity at the Wellcome-Wolfson Institute for Experimental Medicine at Queen's University Belfast

A TOP virologist has said new Covid self-isolation rules issued by the Department of Health are "risky".

The department announced last week that the self-isolation period for adults who test positive for the virus was being reduced to five days.

But Queen’s University Belfast expert Dr Connor Bamford described the change as "a bit risky".

"We know those people who are still a bit unwell, who are testing positive by lateral flow test [LFT], they are the risky ones who are going to be spreading the virus," he told BBC Radio Ulster.

"If you don’t stop them from interacting with people using isolation I think you are going to risk more infections and that’s going to cause people getting sick."

Dr Bamford said people who test positive for Covid are more likely to be infectious up until day 10.

"So what this latest guidance will probably result in is more people who are infectious going back into the community and if they are not careful it will lead to more infections," he said.

The academic acknowledged that health officials are trying to strike a balance between controlling the spread of infection and minimising disruption to the public.

However, he said he would continue to behave cautiously and would personally stick to a longer isolation period.

"I wouldn’t recommend this and I would be testing, if tests are available out to day 10, or just being careful out to day 10," he said.

The expert warned that the current spike does not bode well for the coming winter which will likely see new variants emerge leading to even more people getting sick.

“What we are seeing now can only get worse,” Dr Bamford said.

“We need to have a good eye on this.”

The most recent data from the Office for National Statistics showed that one in 25 people in the north had Covid – up from one in 75 last month.

Last week, the Department of Health announced that lateral flow tests would continue to be made available until the end of July.

Health minister Robin Swann said: "Updated advice for positive Covid cases seeks to strike the right balance at this stage of the pandemic between reducing transmission, protecting the vulnerable and mitigating the disruption caused by longer periods of isolation.

"The reducing risk to the general population, high levels of vaccination and the availability of Covid-19 treatments for eligible groups enable us to reduce the self-isolation period and remove the need for a negative test to release from isolation."

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