People in England who have received two vaccination doses will no longer have to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 from 16 August.
Making an announcement in the Commons on changes to the government’s self-isolation policy, newly appointed Health Secretary Sajid Javid also confirmed self-isolation rules for those aged under 18 will end on the same date.
Individuals must allow two weeks to pass after having their second jab before they are allowed to be exempt from self-isolating, Mr Javid added.
At present, people identified as a close contact of someone who has tested positive for coronavirus will receive an alert from the Test and Trace app or a phone call from a tracer telling them to isolate for 10 days.
For those who have only received one vaccination or those who have not been vaccinated, the requirement to self-isolate after coming into contact with an infected person will remain in place.
And if someone who has received two jabs tests positive for coronavirus they will still have to isolate for the ten day period.
Mr Javid told MPs “the odds have shifted in our favour” due to the successful vaccination rollout which will allow the government to make the self-isolation system more flexible next month.
Analysis by Tom Rayner, digital politics editor
It may be less than two weeks until social distancing and face mask requirements are scrapped on 19 July, but there is now a new date that will become etched in our minds – 16 August.
Ministers have recently made no secret of the fact they hoped to scrap the requirement to self-isolate for 10 days following a close contact if people were double vaccinated.
There had been speculation this could come into effect on 19 July, other reports suggested 26 July, but pushing that point a month beyond so-called ‘freedom day’ is a longer continuation of the existing rules than many had anticipated.
It gives an indication of when the government expects the current rise in new cases to start to subside, through a combination of vaccination roll-out and the build up of antibodies from infection.
But putting the date into mid-August increases the likelihood of families missing out on holidays due to being ‘pinged’ and additional pressures for businesses already juggling lower staff numbers due to people taking leave.
Increasingly it looks as though the government is calculating a difficult summer might be the best way to mitigate against an even more difficult winter.
“From 16 August, when even more people will have the protection of both doses and when modelling suggests the risks from the virus will be even lower, anyone who is a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate if they have been fully vaccinated,” he said.
“If someone gets their second dose just before or just after 16 August, they will need to wait two weeks – after which their second jab can take effect and give them these new freedoms.”
The health secretary said the government will advise close contacts of confirmed cases who are fully vaccinated “to take a PCR test as soon as possible”, adding: “And of course, anyone that tests positive will have to self-isolate whether they have had the jab or not.”
The NHS COVID-19 app will update in August in line with the new guidance on self-isolation for close contacts, the Department for Health and Social Care said.
The government hopes the new system will bring an end to the disruption of individuals being made to stay in their homes, in some cases, for multiple periods of ten days.
On under 18s, Mr Javid added: “In line with the approach for adults, anyone under the age of 18 who is a close contact of a positive case will no longer have to self-isolate.
“Instead, they will be given advice about whether they should get tested – dependent on their age – and will need to self-isolate only if they test positive.
“These measures will also come into force on 16 August ahead of the autumn school term.”
Young people and double vaccinated individuals identified as close contacts will continue to be advised to take a PCR test to detect the virus and variants of concern, the department confirmed.
They added that children aged under 5 years old who are identified as close contacts would only be advised to take a PCR test if the positive case is in their own household.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Javid said the NHS Test and Trace programme would be made more “proportionate” under the changes.
He added that it is “absolutely right” that the government takes a different approach with those who have received both jabs.
The heath secretary’s comments come a day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that almost all COVID rules will be ditched as part of the final step of the roadmap for lifting lockdown restrictions in England.
This includes limits on the number of people who can meet together, legal requirements on wearing face masks and social distancing in pubs and bars.
However, the PM did not announce any changes to the government’s self-isolation policy in his update.
The last step of the government’s roadmap is due to take place on 19 July – subject to four key tests being met – with a final decision on whether to go ahead to be taken in a week’s time following a review of the latest data.
The PM wants to move away from ministerial edicts for managing the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, people in England will be encouraged to use their personal judgement on the risks of infection – with the prime minister wishing to see a new way of living with the virus.
But Labour have accused the government of being “reckless” by aiming to remove the majority of measures in two weeks’ time, while Mr Johnson was criticised for scrapping legal requirements on face masks.