A MAJOR change to test and trace could see thousands more isolating over fears of the new mutant strain of coronavirus.
Fresh guidance means anyone who spends 15 minutes with someone who tests positive over the course of a day – even if it’s not continuous – would be counted as a contact and have to stay at home for 14 days.
The Department of Health changed the guidance today, which says someone will be seen as being exposed to Covid if they “have been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes”.
“Either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day.”
Previously, people would only count as a “close contact” if they had spent 15 minutes continuously within 2 metres of someone.
A spokesperson for No10 said: “We have been clear throughout the pandemic, we have been asking people to keep contact to a minimum.
“The 15 minute rule (for Covid exposure) has changed, so it is now 15 minutes spent within 2 metres over the course of the day.”
Test & Trace is already directing hundreds of thousand of people to self isolate.
In the week between Christmas and New Year, 684,747 people were told to self-isolate, either because they had tested positive, or one of their close contacts had be diagnosed with the virus.
It comes as ministers consider ramping up lockdown rules in order to fight off the super-contagious strain of coronavirus, which could be as much as 70 per cent more transmissible.
Boris Johnson warned today: “We are going to keep the rules under constant review. Where we have to tighten them, we will.
“But we have rules in place which, if properly followed, we believe can make a huge, huge difference.”
And the PM said the UK was at a “perilous moment” in its fight for the virus.
England’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty warned this morning the coming weeks would be some of the hardest of the pandemic.
And he suggested tightening measures could help push the rising tide of cases down.
He added: “In a sense tinkering with the rules may be useful, but the far more important thing is that everybody abides by the spirit of the rules that are there at the moment.
“Everybody knows what they need to do. And I think that’s the key thing – minimise the number of contacts.”
Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said this morning he was concerned about supermarkets failing to bring back tough social distancing rules, which would see queues pile up again outside stores.
Mr Zahawi said: “I am worried about supermarkets, about people actually wearing masks, following the one way system and making sure when it’s at capacity, people are waiting outside.”
And he added the number of “social interactions” in parks was worrying.
He gave Brits a dire warning – telling them if they sit on a bench to see a friend – they are helping spread the virus.
“Don’t go out and sit, or have that opportunity for social interaction. You are helping the virus, that’s what we want to avoid,” he said.