UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said he plans to scrap the requirement for people who have had two Covid-19 jabs and come into contact with an infected person to isolate for 10 days.
e said the approach is currently being piloted but will be introduced as soon as possible, once clinicians have looked at the data.
Under the plan, the 10-day quarantine period could be axed in favour of daily lateral flow tests.
Mr Hancock told BBC Breakfast the approach is being piloted “to check that that will be effective, but it is something that we’re working on”.
He added: “We’re not ready to be able to take that step yet, but it’s something that I want to see and we will introduce, subject to clinical advice, as soon as it’s reasonable to do so.”
Asked whether the remaining restrictions are likely to be lifted before the new England road map date of July 19, Mr Hancock said experts will examine the figures shortly.
He said: “We are looking at the data, and we’ve said that we’ll take a specific look two weeks into the four-week delay that we had to put in place to get more people vaccinated, so we’ll do that.
“But I have every confidence that the more people get vaccinated, the easier it is (and) the safer it is to lift restrictions.
“We had to have the delay in order to get more people vaccinated, especially those second vaccines to protect people, we’re being careful, we’re being cautious.
“But I have a high degree of confidence that this vaccine is going to get us out of this, and the more people who come forward, the easier that will be.”
He said more than a million second jabs for people over the age of 50 have been done in just 10 days.
“So we are getting there,” he added. “We’re not quite there yet but we’re getting there and you can see it in the data, you can see the protection that people are getting.”
Turning to NHS waiting times, Mr Hancock said there is a “big and challenging backlog that has been caused by the pandemic” and suggested it could take up to a few years to clear.
He said there are currently 5.1 million people on the waiting list, “but there’s also millions of people who haven’t come forward with a condition that… might have been niggling rather than acutely serious, and they’ve been waiting until the NHS is in a better position to be able to come forward. And so we do expect that number to rise.”
He said there has been progress on long waits of more than a year but “there is going to be a huge effort over months to come”.
Asked about comments made by one medic that it will take the NHS five to 10 years to get back to normal, Mr Hancock said: “I think we can sort it faster.”
He added: “We’ve been able to make progress against those longest of waits, but this is going to be a big effort, certainly for months, maybe for a couple of years, but we’re determined to sort it faster than that timeframe set out by the orthopaedic consultant in Coventry.”
On social care, Mr Hancock said Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said a plan will be published by the end of this year, and he is happy to be held to that timetable.
Elsewhere, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said it is “unlikely” that coronavirus restrictions in England will be lifted before July 19.
He told Sky News he does not expect the two-week review to lead to an earlier relaxation of the current measures.
“I would always err on the side of caution and I would look to July 19,” he said. “It could be before but I think that is unlikely. Generally we have stuck to the dates we have set. I think now I am very focused on July 19.”
Mr Johnson had originally set today for the end of all legal coronavirus restrictions under his road map to ease England’s lockdown, but delayed so-called ‘Freedom Day’ until July 19 because of concerns over the rapidly-spreading Delta variant first identified in India.
He is also coming under pressure over border restrictions from backbench conservative MPs as the Times reported that fewer than one in 200 travellers from amber list countries are testing positive.
Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory MPs, said: “It’s time British people were able to reap the benefits of the vaccines and for us to get the travel industry moving.”
Meanwhile, Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said today that hospital admissions due to Covid are rising but slowly.
He told Times Radio: “Two weeks ago, on June 4, we had 800 Covid-19 patients in hospital; as of Friday it was 1,170.
“In November there were 14,700 and (in the) January/February peak, there were 34,000 people in hospitals with Covid-19.
“It’s rising relatively slowly but it’s nowhere near anything like the kind of numbers we’ve had in previous waves.
“In terms of who is coming into hospital, it tends to be younger people, people who haven’t been vaccinated, and it’s very, very few people who’ve had double vaccinations and the chance to have that two- to three-week protection build-up.
“So that’s why we’re continuing to say with increasing optimism that the vaccines have broken the chain between the community infections with Covid-19, and the very high level of hospitalisations that we’ve seen in previous waves.”
However, he said his comments relate to the current variants in the UK, including the Delta variant, and there is a question mark over any future variants.
Over the weekend it emerged that more than one million Covid-19 jabs were booked in just two days after the NHS opened its vaccination programme to all remaining adults in England.
A total of 1,008,472 appointments were arranged over Friday and Saturday through the booking service, NHS England said – an average of more than 21,000 every hour, or six every second.