Eluned Morgan MS, Minister for Health and Social Services
Changes have been made to the self-isolation requirements for close contacts of positive COVID-19 cases.
Fully vaccinated adults, children aged 5-18 and vaccine clinical trial participants identified as a close contact of a positive case of COVID-19 will not need to isolate. Instead, they should take lateral flow tests for 7 days as a precautionary measure.
Advice for children under 5 is unchanged – they will not need to isolate and are not required to take a PCR test or do lateral flow tests.
Advice for unvaccinated close contacts remains the same – they are required to self-isolate for 10 days and advised to take PCR tests on day 2 and day 8 following their exposure to a positive case. Over the past few weeks, we have taken swift action against the new Omicron variant through a series of measures to help keep Wales – and people in Wales safe.
On 3 December, the Welsh Government introduced Omicron-specific regulations to require any contacts of suspected or confirmed Omicron cases to self-isolate. In responding to the pandemic, we have always tried to balance COVID and non-COVID harms. As with all our responses to COVID-19, we vow only to keep regulations and restrictions in place only as long as they remain appropriate and proportionate.
The levels of Omicron have already increased significantly in recent weeks and has now become the dominant variant in parts of the UK. As cases in Wales continue to rise, it is now reaching the point where it is no longer proportionate or operationally feasible to base our response specifically on Omicron. Requiring an increasing number of fully vaccinated individuals to self-isolate will impact on our critical public services, at a time when they are under immense pressure to keep Wales safe.
I have therefore amended the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restriction) (No.5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 in order to balance the public health threat posed by Omicron with the impact of self-isolation on individual well-being, education, public services and the economy.
Since 22 December 2021, fully vaccinated adults, children aged 5-18 and vaccine clinical trial participants identified as a close contact of a positive case of COVID-19 in Wales will not need to isolate. Instead, they will be strongly advised to take lateral flow tests for 7 days as a precautionary measure. Children under 5 will not need to isolate and are not required to take a PCR test or do lateral flow tests.
You can get lateral flow tests:
- by collecting from a pharmacy or a local collection point: Find your nearest pharmacy or collection point and opening times (on nhs.uk)
- under agreed arrangements with workplaces and education settings
- by ordering online for home delivery: Order rapid lateral flow home test kits on GOV.UK. You can order 1 home testing kit (7 tests) at a time. Delivery takes 1 to 2 days
For the purpose of these regulations, fully vaccinated means someone who has received two doses of a MHRA regulated vaccine in the UK (at least 14 days before exposure). It does not include a booster vaccination at this stage.
It remains a legal requirement for all unvaccinated contacts to self-isolate for 10 days following their exposure to a positive case. If anyone has not had a first or second dose, it is not too late for individuals to contact their health board to arrange an appointment. Alternatively, you may be able to attend a walk-in centre; health boards will include details of local arrangements on their website. No one who chooses to be vaccinated will be left behind.
These changes will mitigate the impact of staffing levels being reduced across our workforces as a result of self-isolation – at a time when we expect absence levels to rise as a consequence of Omicron transmission. Evidence shows that lateral flow tests are more than 90% effective at detecting those who are most infectious when they use the test and therefore most likely to transmit the virus. Our move to daily contact testing is a proportionate measure to mitigate against transmission whilst protecting public services from significant staff absences. The NHS Covid-19 App continues to support our TTP system and will be updated with information for app users to alert them to the changes in Wales.
The Protect offer will continue to provide long-term support for those who need help to self-isolate, including help to access food and pharmacy goods. Financial support is also available to those who have been asked to self-isolate through the Test Trace Protect system and meet the eligibility criteria.
Members may be aware that in England from Wednesday 22 December, new guidance for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 sets out that those who receive negative LFD results on day 6 and day 7 of their self-isolation period – with tests taken 24 hours apart - no longer have to self-isolate for the full 10 days.
At this time, there is no change to the 10 day self-isolation rule for positive cases in Wales. I have asked my officials to put the systems in place to enable a change from the 5th January should the balance of harms change and a rise in the number of cases risk our ability to deliver critical services.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Senedd returns I would be happy to do so.