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Only half of people with symptoms are self-isolating for a week, scientists warn

Manchester Evening News logo Manchester Evening News 29/05/2020 Fionnula Hainey
a woman wearing glasses talking on a cell phone: Only around 50 per cent of people with coronavirus symptoms self-isolate for a week © PA Wire Only around 50 per cent of people with coronavirus symptoms self-isolate for a week

Only around 50 per cent of people with coronavirus symptoms self-isolate for a week, evidence from the government's scientific advisers has revealed.

It has sparked fears of future outbreaks as the government prepares to ease lockdown restrictions again from Monday.

And, as part of the new contract tracing programme, people who have come into close contact with a confirmed case may now be asked to isolate for 14 days even if they do not have symptoms.

A document released on Friday shows behavioural experts informing the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) warned of the low compliance seen on a Department of Health and Social Care tracker.

They said: “We strongly recommend monitoring and rapid research into adherence rates to all key behaviours and how to improve them, noting that based on DHSC tracker only around 50 per cent of people are currently reporting self-isolating for at least seven days when symptomatic with cough or fever.

Their warning came on April 29 and an updated figure was not immediately available.

Today, Sage released a raft of documents in a drive for transparency, including the minutes of 34 of their meetings since they began convening on coronavirus in January.

On May 5, scientists stressed that alterations to retail, leisure and schools not pushing the transmission rate “R” above the crucial number of one are dependent on “an effective test and trace programme” being in place.

As he launched NHS Test and Trace this week, the prime minister admitted the programme would not reach the “world-beating” standard he had promised until “the next days as we go through June”.

The Sage minutes show scientists stressed that 80 per cent of an individual’s contact would need to be traced for the programme to be effective.

They warned that there is a risk individuals become “less willing to comply” if they are repeatedly asked to isolate and “are impacted financially”, heaping pressure on ministers to ensure there is sufficient support.

Downing Street was unable to say how many calls were made or contacts traced during the programme’s first day of operation on Thursday.

Environment Secretary George Eustice insisted “calls were definitely made” by tracers.

“I don’t know how many cases were dealt with yesterday, I’m aware though that calls were made,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

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