Last reviewed 20 July 2021

We reported recently an announcement by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that certain critical workers would be able to leave self-isolation in exceptional circumstances (see Testing, vaccine passports and jabs for young people).

The Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) have now issued more details about how and when this system would be brought into action.

They have explained that, under the new plans to prevent serious disruption to vital public services, railway signallers and air traffic controllers will be among the critical workers who may be able to leave self-isolation to attend work even if deemed a close contact of someone who has tested positive.

Exceptional circumstances are defined as where there would otherwise be a major detrimental impact on essential services.

A limited number of critical workers may be informed by their employer, following advice from the relevant government department, that they may be able to leave self-isolation to attend work.

Health and Social Care Secretary Sajid Javid said: “These individuals form the backbone of many of our most vital services and, as we learn to live with this virus, it’s right we do everything in our power to protect services from disruption by allowing our fully vaccinated critical workers to keep doing their important work”.

This will only apply to workers who are fully vaccinated (defined as someone who is 14 days post-final dose) and will be solely so that they can attend work. They will otherwise need to continue to self-isolate as directed by NHS Test and Trace.

They must be asymptomatic as the exemptions will not apply to individuals who have tested positive or who have Covid-19 symptoms.

Critical workers who attend work in these exceptional circumstances will need to take a PCR test as soon as possible followed by daily LFD tests before attending work each day of their self-isolation period.

If they test positive or start to show symptoms they must immediately self-isolate and will no longer be able to attend work.

Workplaces must follow other safeguards, including ensuring that social distancing is maintained and face coverings worn at all times.

Decisions to inform employers that designated critical workers may have a reasonable excuse to attend work will be made by the Department with responsibility for the critical service.

This is a short-term measure before the exemption for fully vaccinated contacts is introduced on 16 August.