Proposals to scrap quarantine requirements for those who have received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine are under “consideration”, the Government has confirmed.
Downing Street said it was looking at whether to drop all legal self-isolation measures for fully vaccinated people who come into contact with someone who is infected “as part of the post-Step 4 world”.
It comes after The Times reported that a meeting of the Covid operations committee will take place on Monday at which ministers are expected to sign off a plan that will mean those who have been double-jabbed will be “advised”, after so-called “freedom day” on July 19, to take daily tests but not be required to do so.
A scientific adviser, however, said the problems associated with such an exemption “outweigh the potential benefits” and warned that it could cause “resentment”.
Professor Robert West, a health psychologist who is a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours (SPI-B), which advises Sage, told Times Radio: “The most serious problem is that if you have a situation where not everyone has been even offered the vaccine then you’ve already got clearly a huge unfairness.
“When you get unfairness in situations like this, you get resentment and when you get resentment you can get loss of compliance.”
But Prof West’s assertion has been challenged by other medical experts who said it would be “perfectly OK” to allow those who are fully inoculated more freedoms.
Dr Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer in communicable diseases at the University of Exeter, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that vaccines were breaking the link between cases, hospital admissions and deaths, meaning “we can start thinking about other uncoupling measures, such as no need to quarantine after being fully immunised”.
Epidemiologist Professor Christophe Fraser, who advised the Department of Health on test and trace, said a “midway” proposal could be that those who have received both jabs are tested every day instead of undertaking a quarantine period.
The Oxford University academic said he agreed the self-isolation policy “needs to be reviewed in light of the data on the vaccine effectiveness”.
The debate about extra rights for those who have been vaccinated is playing out amid a background of an “alarming” rise in Covid-19 cases in England.
The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that about one in 260 people in private households in England had Covid in the week to June 26 – up from one in 440 in the previous week and the highest level since the week to February 27.
The increase has caused leading doctors to urge the Government to keep some restrictions in place in England after July 19 in a bid to stem the rate of infection.
The British Medical Association (BMA) said that keeping some protective measures in place was “crucial” to stop spiralling case numbers having a “devastating impact” on people’s health, the NHS, the economy and education.
Chief medical officer for England Professor Chris Whitty, according to The Times, has privately predicted that the use of face coverings will continue to be needed after the Prime Minister’s “terminus date” for unlocking.
Downing Street said no decision had been made on whether work from home guidance could remain in place after social distancing measures have been eased following speculation to that effect in the press.
The reports follow Health Secretary Sajid Javid refusing to confirm, when asked to by MPs in the Commons this week, that all restrictions will be scrapped at Stage 4 of the road map out of lockdown.
Meanwhile, hospitality bosses have demanded reforms to the NHS Test and Trace app, amid complaints it is leading to staff shortages and could end up putting punters off visiting pubs and restaurants.
Rob Pitcher, chief executive of Revolution Bars Group, which runs 66 bars across the UK, said the app was “casting the net quite wide” in terms of who it pings as a close contact of a positive case, making it “very difficult” for the sector to recover following the coronavirus lockdowns.
Speaking to the Today programme, Mr Pitcher said: “At any one point at the moment, we’ve probably got 10-15% of our estate in some form of closure.
“It is having a huge impact across our business and the industry at large.”
Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, said: “NHS Test and Trace is becoming a huge issue for our pubs.
“Already pubs are closing or greatly reducing their opening hours due to staff shortages caused by app pings – despite staff testing negative on lateral flow tests.
“We urge the Government to work with us to find a sensible solution to this that still ensures staff and customer safety.”
But Government adviser Prof Fraser said that those pinged would have come into the “kind of contact which gives a reasonable probability that you may have been infected” and that app-issued self-isolation requirements were helping to slow infections.
The Government confirmed that, as of 9am on Saturday, there had been a further 24,885 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases in the UK, while a further 18 people had died within 28 days of testing positive.