U.K. Considers Cutting Isolation Time for Virus Contacts

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The U.K. is considering reducing the self-isolation time for the contacts of people who tested positive for the coronavirus, cutting it from two weeks to potentially 10 or seven days.

“The teams are looking at this,” Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on the BBC’s Andrew Marr program on Sunday. “Any final decision on this will be led by the science.”

Any change in the policy would come as evidence shows poor compliance with Britain’s quarantine rules: a King’s College London study of 30,000 people between March and August found only 10.9% reported staying at home and isolating for the full two weeks after being contact traced. And in what would come as a potential boost to the nation’s battered travel industry, the U.K. has also mooted cutting the quarantine time for arrivals from abroad.

The coronavirus continues to spread in Britain and the death toll is rising. The latest figures published Sunday reported 19,790 new virus cases, compared to 23,012 the day before, and 151 more deaths, taking total U.K. fatalities to 44,896. In Spain and Italy, where cases are also rising, both countries announced stricter virus restrictions over the weekend.

The British government also faces pressure over a detailed investigation in the Sunday Times newspaper that said a system of triaging the elderly in the initial phases of the pandemic meant that many didn’t receive intensive-care treatment before they died. The government denied the story.

“This is just wrong,” Lewis said on Times Radio on Sunday. “There never was any kind of rule or guidance outlined in the Times.”

Cause for Optimism

Lewis was also asked about Britain’s ongoing trade talks with the European Union on Sunday, saying he was optimistic a deal would be struck, but that a compromise would be required from the bloc. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier decided to extend his time in London for the latest round of negotiations, news which boosted the pound as much as 0.3% to $1.3075 in early Asian trading.

“Hopefully there will be a positive outcome,” Lewis said on Sky News’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday program. “The EU does need to move.”

In other developments:

  • Ministers continued to resist calls to give children free meals during the school holidays, despite growing support for a campaign led by Manchester United soccer star Marcus Rashford and increasing disquiet among Conservative backbenchers
  • British armed forces personnel boarded a ship in the English Channel that was subject to a suspected hijacking and detained seven people
  • The government announced changes to childcare support for working parents, ensuring people would receive it even if the pandemic had stopped them working a previously-specified number of hours on at least the minimum wage.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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