Vaccinated NHS staff no longer need to self isolate if close contact of Omicron case

Vaccinated NHS staff will no longer be required to self-isolate for 10 days if they are in contact with a case of the Omicron variant, after the UK Health Security Agency updated its guidance.

(Photo: steved_np3/Getty Images)

On Tuesday 14 December the government changed the rules for close contacts of COVID-19 cases in England to require anyone who is fully vaccinated to take lateral flow tests for seven days. Prior to that people who had been identified as a close contact of an Omicron case were expected to self isolate for 10 days.

At the time, the UK Health Security Agency said that current guidance requiring NHS staff to self isolate if they were a close contact of an Omicron case still applied, but remained under review. GPs and NHS leaders had already raised concerns that automatic self isolation for Omicron close contacts could have a significant impact on the workforce.

Updated guidance

Updated guidance published today (Wednesday 15 December) removes the requirement for self isolation. The new guidance means GPs and practice staff will be expected to follow the same rules as applied before the Omicron variant emerged.

NHS staff who are in contact with a case at work while they are wearing correct PPE are not classed as a close contact.

Fully-vaccinated staff who are identified as a close contact of a case of COVID-19 are required to take a PCR test and not return to work until they receive a negative result. They are also expected to take  daily lateral flow tests for 10 days following their contact with the case. These should be taken before the come into work each day.

Anyone who has had COVID-19 themselves within the past 90 days do not need to have a PCR test but should undertake daily lateral flow tests for 10 days.

GP workforce

These rules only apply to those who are at least 14 days after their second dose of the vaccine. Staff members who are unvaccinated, partly vaccinated or exempt should not attend work for 10 days, or should be redeployed so they can work from home.

The updated rules could prove a boost for the GP workforce, as previous rules requiring automatic self-isolation for close contacts of an Omicron case left practice teams reporting significant staff absences.

The changes come amid a sharp rise in cases of COVID-19 in the UK, with 78,610 cases reported on 15 December - the highest daily figure since the pandemic began.

Health and social care secretary Sajid Javid warned earlier this week that the UK faced a 'dramatic rise' in hospitalisations and deaths as a result of the rapid spread of Omicron.

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