Did Chris Whitty say you should keep testing after day 10 of isolation?

5 January 2022

Following a 4 January Covid-19 press conference, comments made by Professor Sir Chris Whitty have been highlighted in The Guardian and posts on Twitter as a potential source of confusion over whether someone can end their 10 day period of self-isolation if they are still testing positive for Covid-19 on lateral flow tests. 

During the press conference, the chief medical officer for England spoke about the new policy to allow people who are isolating to reduce their isolation time from 10 to seven days if they have a negative lateral flow test on days six and seven, and no longer have a high temperature. 

He said: “…the reason that we feel it is a useful tool to allow, on day six and day seven, someone who’s isolated because they know they've got Covid to day five, and then they have a negative test on day six and a negative test on day seven, we have confidence they're much less likely to be in any way infectious to other people if they then leave isolation than if they had not done those tests”. 

He added: “So that's the reason why adding those [lateral flow] tests on allowed ministers to decide to move from 10 days isolation down to seven, but the last two you do the lateral tests because they're very predictive of how infectious someone is. 

“Obviously, if they're still positive, then they do need to stay in isolation till it goes negative.”

This last sentence has caused confusion as to whether Professor Whitty was referring to the need to remain in self isolation beyond 10 days without a negative lateral flow result. 

For example, the Guardian suggested his comments may differ from government advice which says: “You should not take any more LFD [lateral flow device] tests after the 10th day of your isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day”. 

The advice also says that even if you had a positive lateral flow test result on day 10 of your self-isolation period, you should not take any more lateral flow tests after this day and you are unlikely to be infectious. 

The government advice adds that if you may choose to take certain precautionary steps, such as limiting contact with those outside of your household, more extensive use of face coverings and limiting contact with people who may be more vulnerable to severe Covid-19 until 14 days after the start of your self-isolation period. 

The advice also differs if you are having ongoing fevers. It states: “You can return to your normal routine and stop self-isolating after 10 full days if your symptoms have gone, or if the only symptoms you have are a cough or anosmia [change or loss of smell], which can last for several weeks. If you still have a high temperature after 10 days or are otherwise unwell, stay at home and seek medical advice.”

The Department for Health and Social Care told Full Fact that Professor Whitty was referring specifically to the guidance around days six and seven of isolation and the testing rules for those. It added that the current guidance on the government website should still be followed regarding ongoing testing

Professor Whitty also confirmed to Full Fact that he was answering a question from the public and was speaking specifically about the day six and seven tests.  

The shortened isolation for people with no temperature and a negative day six and seven test has now been introduced in England, Wales, Northern Ireland. and Scotland

Update 6 January 2022

This piece has been updated to include a response from Professor Sir Chris Whitty.

Full Fact fights bad information

Bad information ruins lives. It promotes hate, damages people’s health, and hurts democracy. You deserve better.