Alliance urges clarity on close contact rules for under-fives following self-isolation changes

Leading membership organisation the Early Years Alliance has called on the government to urgently clarify the current rules on what action parents of children aged under five should take if their child is confirmed as a close contact of a positive Covid case. 

Previously, government guidance stated that children aged under five were “advised to take a PCR test” if someone in their household tested positive for a non-Omicron variant of Covid-19, and under-fives were also included in rules that required all close contacts, regardless of age or vaccination status, to isolate if they were confirmed as a close contact of a suspected or positive Omicron case. 

However, new self-isolation rules, which have come into force today, enabling people to take daily lateral flow tests for seven days instead of self-isolating only apply to fully-vaccinated adults, or children aged between five and 18. On under-fives, government guidance now simply states: “Children under 5 years are exempt from self-isolation and do not need to take part in daily testing of close contacts.” There is no mention of any advice or requirement for under-fives who are confirmed close contacts of positive Covid cases to take any other kind of measures, such as a PCR test, in lieu of isolating. 

On Monday, Ofsted released new data showing reports of Covid-19 cases in early years settings in England at an all-time high, with 2,707 reports of cases in the week commencing 22 November 2021, up 38% from 1960 the previous week. 

Commenting, Neil Leitch, CEO of the Early Years Alliance: 

“Early years settings are one of the very few places where social distancing is simply impossible, and those working in the sector are constantly in close physical contact with the young children in their care.  

“It beggars belief, therefore, that there could ever be any suggestion of simply removing the requirement for children aged under five who have been confirmed as close contacts of positive Covid cases to self-isolate without putting in place any alternative mitigation measures – especially given the speed at which we are told the Omicron variant is liable to spread, and the recent sharp increase in Covid reports in early years settings.

"Those working in the sector already feel that their safety, and that of their loved ones, is not valued by the government. Clearly there need to be safeguards put in place to ensure that young children aren't unknowingly carrying and spreading Covid-19 through their early years settings.

“We hope that this is a case of poorly written guidance, rather than utterly reckless policy-making, and urge the government to provide clarity to the early years sector on this as a matter of priority.”