COVID Quarantine Rules Lifted for Thousands of UK Workers Amid Staffing Shortages

Thousands more essential workers in the United Kingdom will have COVID-19 quarantine rules eased in an attempt to end staff shortages and help the economy recover, the British government announced Tuesday.

Most Britons are recommended to self-isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone who tested positive for the virus. The self-isolation system has caused staffing shortages in restaurants and other businesses.

Last week, the government said food and transport workers, border staff, police and firefighters could instead opt to take a daily COVID-19 test. Now, the daily tests will be expanded to include other essential workers such as garbage collectors, prison staff, veterinarians, tax collectors and defense workers.

Starting August 16, anyone who has been fully vaccinated can choose to take the daily tests, rather than self-isolating, but many businesses have pushed for the change to come sooner.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Pedestrians cross Westminster Bridge
The British government announced Tuesday thousands more essential workers would be able to opt to take a daily coronavirus test in an attempt to help the staff shortage affecting the economy. Pedestrians wearing face masks cross Westminster Bridge with Elizabeth Tower, better known by the nickname for the Great Bell in the clock Big Ben in the background, in central London on Monday. Tolga Akmen/AFP via Getty Images

About 26 million Britons have downloaded a health service phone app that tells them to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

The government said 2,000 sites would be set up to meet the increased demand for tests.

One person "pinged" by the app is Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who had to self-isolate after Health Secretary Sajid Javid tested positive this month. Johnson's 10-day spell in isolation ended at midnight Monday.

Johnson said he understood people's frustration, but urged them to "stick with the program."

"We do need to use the tools that we have. Self-isolation is the one that we've got. I urge people to do it," he said.

Those notified by the app aren't legally required to self-isolate. And there have been reports people have deleted the app from their phones. The app's contact tracing function can also be turned off.

Britain removed most remaining pandemic restrictions, including mandatory mask rules and capacity limits, on July 19, despite several weeks of rising infections driven by the highly contagious Delta variant of the virus.

Despite that easing, cases have fallen for six straight days, with Monday's figure of 24,950 confirmed infections down more than a third from the figure a week earlier. Scientists said the decline could reflect the end of the Euro 2020 soccer tournament, which drew crowds to games, pubs and parties, and the recent end of the school year for most pupils.

Britain has also given 70 percent of adults both doses of a coronavirus vaccine.

But authorities caution that the impact of the end of restrictions on July 19 hasn't yet been felt in the figures.

Johnson said "it is very, very important that we don't allow ourselves to run away with premature conclusions" about the infection rate.

"People have got to remain very cautious, and that remains the approach of the government," he said.

NHS App
The British government has sought to ease food supply pressures in England by exempting more than 10,000 workers from quarantine rules that had led to staff shortages and empty shelves and fears of panic-buying. In this September 24, 2020 file photo, a view of an iPhone showing the new NHS COVID-19 mobile phone contact tracing application after the app went live. Frank Augstein, File/AP Photo