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This huge development could make coronavirus quarantines shorter

Published Nov 10th, 2020 4:37PM EST
Coronavirus Quarantine

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  • UK officials are considering shortening coronavirus quarantine following contact with an infected individual to 10 days with the help of a fast new COVID-19 test.
  • The quarantine period would be reduced by four days if a person tests negative on day 8 or later. However, a positive test would require eight additional days of isolation.
  • The introduction of fast tests might also change quarantine rules that are in effect for people traveling to the UK, pending a successful development in England’s Liverpool mass-testing experiment.

The CDC says you should quarantine for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. According to the same guidelines, people infected with the novel coronavirus should stay in isolation for 10 days. Studies have shown that a person is most infectious about two days before the onset of symptoms and for several days after symptoms appear.

After nearly a year of living with the virus, many people have already experienced at least one COVID-19 scare that forced them into quarantine. As the virus is spreading rapidly, many others will have to deal with quarantines and isolation in the weeks and months to come. But the UK might be the first to change the quarantine period. If a current trial in Liverpool is successful, the quarantine period might be shortened by four days for people who have come in contact with a COVID-19 carrier.

The UK plans to use rapid tests to reduce the 14-day quarantine to a 10-day period of isolation for COVID-19 contacts. The government has invested £500 million in rapid testing, despite its shortfalls. Antigen tests can deliver a response at home within 15 minutes and they’re fairly easy to understand and use. However, the tests can also deliver more false negatives than PCR tests, which would give people a false sense of security and lead to more transmission.

Per The Guardian, the lawmakers want to propose a 10-day quarantine period after contact with an infected individual as long as they test negative on the final day. The hope is that a shortened quarantine period will improve compliance. King’s College London research showed that in September, only 11% of people in the UK complied with the two-week self-isolation rule. The UK is currently in a lockdown, though it’s not as strict as before.

If any test result comes back positive during the isolation period, a person will then be asked to self-isolate for another eight days.

According to the report, there has been some tension surrounding COVID-19 quarantines between professor Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, and Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s most senior aide. Last week, Whitty discovered a press release draft that called for rapid tests to halve quarantines to seven days. The plan was to scrape quarantines altogether by offering people tests as soon as they were notified of contact with a confirmed case.

Whitty opposed the idea, arguing that the virus’s incubation period is too long to make immediate testing effective. The proposal to test after eight days and allow the person to leave the house on the 10th day came as an alternative to Cummings’ initial plan. SARS-CoV-2 has an incubation period of 2-14 days, which explains the current two-week quarantine guidelines.

The Guardian also reports that there are worries about the large £500 million contract awarded to California-based Innova. The company is owned by an equity firm that bought the rights for a lateral flow (antigen) test developed in China by a different company. Experts worry that antigen tests will miss too many infected people if they’re tested in the first days of the infection when there’s not enough virus load inside the nose.

The lateral flow tests in Liverpool might yield another quarantine-related decision if they’re successful. Transport secretary Grant Shapps told the Airport Operators Association conference that the tests could lead to an end to quarantines for travelers.

“I want you to know that we’ve been making very good progress on a test-to-release program to launch once we’re out of lockdown,” the official said. “This will consist of a single test for arrivals into the UK, provided by the private sector and at the cost of the passenger, allowing a much reduced period of self-isolation.”

Announced a few days ago, the Liverpool experiment is a huge undertaking and will involve testing half a million people in the city in an attempt to catch every COVID-19 case. Authorities will use both the reliable PCR tests that take 24 hours to process as well as the new antigen tests that offer results within 15 minutes.

It’s unclear what impact these potential quarantine and isolation changes in the UK might have on the rest of the world. If the results are positive, however, this initiative could lead to big changes in other countries.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.