Setback for shortening Covid 19 isolation to five days, according to new Japanese study

A Japanese study has found the infection duration of the Omicron variant of Covid 19 is up to six days, which could deal a blow to plans to reduce isolation durations to five days.

Data from the National Institute of Infectious Diseases – which conducts disease surveillance in Japan – suggests that the amount of viral RNA is highest between three and six days after diagnosis or the onset of symptoms.

The isolation time for people who tested positive for Covid-19 was recently reduced from 10 to seven days in England when two lateral flow tests returned negative results on days six and seven. Similar breaks in isolation followed in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Staff absences due to isolation have led to serious staffing shortages for critical services, including the NHS, schools and transport, prompting the UK to follow the US in reducing the isolation period to five days.

Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the latest Japanese data “muddy the waters”. and makes evidence ambiguous – reports the British medical journal BMJ

“I’m still working my way through the evidence for and against as the Japanese study has now shifted the balance,” he said.

Previous studies suggest that the maximum transmission time for people with other variants was between two days before symptom onset and three days after, with virus shedding peaking at or before symptom onset.

The Japanese study suggests that in Omicron, virus shedding might peak two or three days later, Hunter said.

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