Payments to allow people with Covid symptoms to self-isolate need to be increased sharply or a return to normal life could lead to a resurgence in infections and deaths, ministers are being warned.

Two leading thinktanks have proposed that the government funds grants for employers and the self-employed, on a similar basis to the furlough scheme, to encourage more people to isolate.

Doctors, public health experts and opposition parties believe that low adherence to the request to self-isolate has been a major flaw in Britain’s response to the pandemic and allowed coronavirus to spread.

One recent study found that almost half of those displaying symptoms did not bother to stay at home, often because they could not afford to lose income from not working.

The Resolution Foundation and the Health Foundation are urging ministers to introduce a scheme in which employers could apply for a grant to cover the wages of any employee who needed to self-isolate, using a modified version of the existing coronavirus job retention scheme.

Self-employed workers would be able to obtain similar levels of support, also in the form a grant, through the self-employment income support scheme.

If implemented, the new payments system would cover 100% of a worker’s wages, capped at the equivalent of £2,500 a month, or £822 for a typical 10-day spell in isolation. That is equal to the cap used in the furlough scheme, which has subsidised workers’ wages since last year.

It would cost the government between £27m and £39m a month, a fraction of the £1.25bn monthly cost of the heavily criticised test-and-trace programme, the thinktanks said.

The amounts available for self-isolation have been too low, and therefore contributed to the virus spreading as people have continued to work to earn money, they argued.

“The support available for people to self-isolate has been a blind spot in our response to the pandemic. Compliance with test-and-trace requests to self-isolate are low, with evidence pointing to loss of income as a key barrier for people,” said Sarah Reed, a senior fellow at the Health Foundation.


How England’s Covid lockdown is being lifted


Step 1, part 1

In effect from 8 March, all pupils and college students returned fully. Care home residents could receive one regular, named visitor. 

Step 1, part 2

In effect from 29 March, outdoor gatherings allowed of up to six people, or two households if this is larger, not just in parks but also gardens.
Outdoor sport for children and adults allowed.
The official stay at home order ended, but people encouraged to stay local.
People still asked to work from home where possible, with no overseas travel allowed beyond the current small number of exceptions.

Step 2

In effect from 12 April, non-essential retail, hair and nail salons, and some public buildings such as libraries and commercial art galleries  reopened. Most outdoor venues can reopen, including pubs and restaurants, but only for outdoor tables and beer gardens. Customers will have to be seated but there will be no need to have a meal with alcohol.

Also reopen are settings such as zoos and theme parks. However, social contact rules still apply here, so no indoor mixing between households and limits on outdoor mixing.
Indoor leisure facilities such as gyms and pools can also open, but again people can only go alone or with their own household.
Reopening of holiday lets with no shared facilities is also allowed, but only for one household.
Funerals can have up to 30 attendees, while weddings, receptions and wakes can have 15.

Step 3

From 17 May people will be able to meet indoors in groups of up to six or as two households, or outdoors in groups of up to 30 people. People can also choose whether to socially distance with close family and friends, meaning that they can sit close together and hug. In care homes, residents will be able to have up to five named visitors and be entitled to make low risk visits out of the home.

People can meet in private homes, or in pubs, bars and restaurants, which will all be able to reopen indoors. Weddings, receptions and other life events can take place with up to 30 people. The cap on numbers attending funerals will depend on the size of the venue.

Most forms of indoor entertainment where social distancing is possible will also be able to resume, including cinemas, museums and children’s play areas. Theatres, concert halls, conference centres and sports stadia will have capacity limits in place.

Organised adult sport and exercise classes can resume indoors and saunas and steam rooms will reopen.

Hotels, hostels and B&Bs in the UK will allow overnight stays in groups of up to six people or two households.

People will also be able to travel to a small number of countries on the green list and will not have to quarantine on return.

Pupils will no longer be expected to wear face coverings in classrooms or in communal areas in secondary schools and colleges as a result of decreasing infection rates. Twice weekly home testing will remain in place. School trips with overnight stays will also now be possible.

Step 4

No earlier than 21 June, all legal limits will be removed on mixing, and the last sectors to remain closed, such as nightclubs, will reopen. Large events can take place.

Peter Walker Political correspondent and Rachel Hall

“Without proper self-isolation support too many people have been put in the difficult position of choosing between doing the right thing or risking their livelihoods.

“Many other countries have not had this problem. Either they have more generous sick pay policies already, or they were quicker to put comprehensive self-isolation payments in place.

“For example, Austria, Finland and Germany cover 100% of lost earnings if they are self-isolating.”

A joint report by the thinktanks says that: “The £500 self-isolation support payments only cover about one in eight workers and statutory sick pay only covers a quarter of the average worker’s earnings, and misses out 2 million of the lowest-paid workers altogether.”

Reed said: “Now is the time to fix this weakness in our defence strategy. The pandemic is not over yet. Cases are expected to increase alongside easing restrictions, while new variants test us, and the ongoing vaccination campaign continues.”

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, has backed the plan. “Without fixing this gaping hole in our defences we risk undermining the work done to bring the virus under control. Ministers cannot afford to ignore calls to introduce proper sick pay. Our path out of the pandemic depends on it,” he said.The Department of Health and Social Care was approached for comment.

This content first appear on the guardian

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