Double-jabbed people identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19 in England will be told to take a daily rapid test for seven days from Tuesday, health officials said.
Unvaccinated adults are not eligible for this new daily testing policy and they must self-isolate for 10 days if they are a contact of someone who tests positive.
The daily testing aims to reduce pressures on people’s everyday lives by replacing the requirement for Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days, the Department of Health & Social Care (DHSC) said.
The policy also aims to protect the public by identifying asymptomatic cases and stopping the chains of transmission.
The Omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the UK and is expected to become the dominant strain by mid-DecemberHealth Secretary Sajid Javid
It comes as new modelling suggests that, under one scenario, almost twice the number of coronavirus patients could be admitted to hospital compared with last year due to the impact of Omicron.
Experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine calculated figures which show a large wave of infections could occur over the next few months if tougher measures are not brought in.
The DHSC said testing daily with lateral flow tests will also help with understanding how and where the virus is spreading.
The department said close contacts of people who test positive are at higher risk of getting Covid-19 and, with one in three people asymptomatic, daily testing will help ensure people are not unknowingly passing the virus on to others.
People will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace by phone, email or text or they will receive a notification from the NHS Covid-19 app to tell them they are a contact of someone who tested positive and what action they need to take.
They will be advised to get a box of seven lateral flow tests free of charge from NHS Test and Trace either through pharmacies, schools or home delivery by ordering online.
As is the case now, anyone whose rapid test comes back positive, or who develops Covid symptoms, should self-isolate and take a PCR test to verify the result.
If the PCR result comes back positive, contacts must self-isolate for 10 days from the day they took the positive rapid test or developed symptoms.
They do not need to continue taking rapid tests during that 10-day isolation period.
If the PCR result comes back negative, contacts can leave self-isolation but should continue to take rapid tests for the remainder of the seven days.
The DHSC said anyone identified as a contact with a negative lateral flow test is “strongly advised” to limit close contact with other people outside their household, especially in crowded or enclosed spaces and with anyone who is more vulnerable.
Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “The Omicron variant is quickly gaining ground in the UK and is expected to become the dominant strain by mid-December.
“We are taking this proportionate and more practical measure to limit the impact on people’s day-to-day lives while helping to reduce the spread of Omicron.
“Vaccines remain our best defence and I urge anyone yet to get a first and second jab to come forward and those eligible for a booster to get boosted as soon as possible.”
Taking a rapid daily test - and only needing to isolate if it is positive - will help reduce the spread of the virus and minimise its impact on our everyday lives over the coming weeks and monthsDr Jenny Harries, UK Health Security Agency
Dr Jenny Harries, chief executive of the UK Health Security Agency, said: “If you are identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19, taking a rapid daily test – and only needing to isolate if it is positive – will help reduce the spread of the virus and minimise its impact on our everyday lives over the coming weeks and months.
“Rapid tests are freely available in pharmacies and online. Our latest analysis shows that boosters provide the best protection against the Omicron variant, please go forward when you are called.
“If you haven’t had any vaccine, a first and second dose still gives you protection against becoming seriously unwell.
“Don’t worry about stepping forwards now – you will be warmly welcomed by our vaccination staff and I would strongly advise you to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”