Test and Trace chief defends people who break COVID self-isolation rules to go for a walk
Dido Harding: ‘There’s a big difference between someone who goes for a quick walk on their own and someone who chooses to go to a party’
Baroness Harding cites data suggesting 46% leave home at some point during isolation period
NHS Test and Trace chief Dido Harding has defended people who break coronavirus self-isolation rules to leave their home to go for a walk.
Baroness Harding told MPs that people in quarantine who go for a late-night 10-minute stroll while wearing a face mask should not be demonised – despite this being against the law.
England’s COVID-19 quarantine rules require people with virus symptoms or a positive test to stay at home for 10 days.
People in their household must also stay at home for 14 days. In late September, the rules became enforceable with fines of up to £10,000.
Speaking at a joint meeting of the health and social care and science and technology committees on Tuesday, Baroness Harding cited test and trace data suggesting nearly half – 46% – of people leave their home during the isolation period. Separate research by King’s College London has suggested this is as high as 89%.
Asked for her thoughts on why people are not “quarantining as they should be”, Baroness Harding jumped to the defence of some people who break the law.
She said: “The qualitative feedback that we’ve had is that it’s not because people don’t want to play their part. It’s because it’s hard.
“It’s hard either practically – to be able to have enough food to be able to isolate over the period of time, to be able to afford to do that shopping up front… if they’ve got caring responsibilities for children or elderly relatives – but also the mental health challenges.
Watch: People in England face £10,000 fines for not self-isolating
“It is really hard to stay inside without contact with friends or family for up to 14 days.”
She went on: “People report just wanting to have some fresh air. That’s why I say it’s important we don’t convince ourselves that you either completely comply or you don’t comply at all.
“There is a big difference between someone who goes outside for 10 minutes at midnight just to have a quick walk on their own while wearing a face mask to get some fresh air, and someone who chooses to go to a party even they know they have tested positive.
“We see much more of the former than we do of the latter.”
Baroness Harding also said people may need to buy “emergency prescriptions or food”.
It came after Professor Dominic Harrison, director of public health at Blackpool and Darwen Borough Council, said people were probably under-reporting their contacts to protect their friends and family from having to self-isolate.
Speaking before Baroness Harding at the same committee, he said: “People are reluctant to give their full list of contacts because what they don’t want to do is to cause the rest of their family – who perhaps have one low-wage basic income earner in a household – into isolation and lose their capacity to feed their family.”
A payment of £500 is available for those on lower incomes who cannot work from home and face a financial hit as a result.