Critical workers exempted from self-isolation rules

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A delivery is made to a SPAR supermarket in Belfast as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, March 18, 2020. REUTERS/Jason Cairnduff

The government on Monday announced new exemptions to its rules on self-isolation for those exposed to Covid-19, saying that workers in critical roles could be allowed to continue working instead of quarantining for 10 days.

“We recognise there are some very specific circumstances where there would be a serious risk of harm to public welfare if people in critical roles are unable to go to their workplace – like air traffic controllers or train signallers,” Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi told parliament.

“So people in those kinds of roles, who have received two vaccinations, plus two weeks beyond the second vaccine, will not need to self isolate for those critical tasks they will, however, have to continue to self isolate at all other times.”

The move will allow people working in the food supply chain eligible for the exemption, alongside others like frontline health and social care workers.

Zahawi said the people who are eligible for the exemption will receive personalised letters setting out the steps they must follow.

Cases of Covid-19 are surging in Britain, causing hundreds of thousands of workers to be told they need to spend 10 days at home because they have been identified as a close contact of someone with the disease.

That has caused staff shortages in schools, businesses and the healthcare system.

The new rules will apply to staff whose absence would cause a significant risk of harm. Those considered eligible will need to test negative for the virus, and take daily tests throughout the period they would have been required to isolate for.

“As we learn to live with this virus, it’s important that we ensure frontline staff can keep providing the best possible care and support to people up and down the country,” said Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who is himself in isolation after testing positive on Saturday.

Critical workers who attend work in these exceptional circumstances will need to take a PCR test as soon as possible followed by daily LFD tests before attending work each day of their self-isolation period. If they test positive or start to show symptoms they must immediately self-isolate and will no longer be able to attend work.

Workplaces need to follow other safeguards, including ensuring that social distancing is maintained and face coverings worn at all times. The measure will only apply to named individuals from a specific set of organisations.