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BSI response on extension of self-isolation period following COVID-19 symptoms

30 July 2020

The UK's Chief Medical Officers have announced today that they are extending the period of self-isolation required for people who have COVID-19 symptoms or have received a positive COVID-19 test from seven to ten days post-symptom onset.  In response, the British Society for Immunology has released the following statement.

Professor Peter Openshaw, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Professor of Experimental Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“With a sustained decline in total infection rates, keeping the coronavirus infection rate low is now a top priority. Given some hints of resurgence, today’s news that the period of isolation following symptom onset is to increase from seven to ten days is to be welcomed.  Our knowledge of SARS-CoV-2 infection is increasing all the time.  We now know that people with COVID-19 seem to be most infectious (i.e. most likely to spread the disease to other people) at about the time of symptom onset.  However, recent studies have found that there are cases where infectious virus can still be recovered from respiratory secretions up to 9 days after symptom onset. This, in theory, means that such people may be capable of transmitting the virus. What needs to be determined is just how much transmission actually occurs in these later stages of illness. It’s clear that some people have virus RNA (its genetic material) detectable for a month or more after illness onset, but once the immune system starts to make antibody the infectivity declines rapidly. 

“We are now in a critical stage of controlling the disease. Keeping infection rates low is vital and extending the period of isolation to 10 days brings us in line with some other European countries. It seems to be a sensible precaution to keep pressure on the virus while other measures to control the spread of SARS-CoV-2 are developed.”

You can read the full statement from the UK Chief Medical Officers on the GOV.UK website