Calls have been made for the UK to slash its Covid quarantine period to just five days which will bring its isolation rules in line with the US.
Officials in America binned an order yesterday which forced the infected to self-isolate for 10 days.
Instead, they can now leave home at the half-way point providing they have no symptoms.
But they must wear a mask around people for another five days.
Bosses at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC ) insisted the decision was “motivated by science” and to keep “society functioning”.
Now leading experts want the UK to follow suit in light of the Omicron strain which has seen businesses lose trade throughout Christmas by forcing hundreds of thousands to stay at home.
Union bosses have warned the ultra-transmissible variant’s rapid spread has left the NHS and other public sectors in a “perilous state”.
Ministers have already shortened the isolation period to seven days but only if Covid sufferers test negative twice at the end of their week of quarantine.
Sir John Bell, an immunologist who has advised the Government on Covid, said the UK should rely on lateral flow tests like in the US.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the swabs are “quite a good way of marking who is infectious and who isn’t”.
Pressed on whether he would back a five day quarantine, he said: “If it was supported by lateral flow data, yes.”
And Professor Paul Hunter, an infectious disease expert from the University of East Anglia, said people infected with Covid need to be allowed to “go about their normal lives” as they would with a cold.
He said No 10 will have to relax the rules entirely at some point and argued it may need to happen “sooner rather than later”‘.
He suggested the rules could be scaled back once we are past Easter.
But he admitted it would be premature to drop the quarantine rules right now because the virus is still causing severe disease.
Professor Hunter said the issue would have to be discussed fairly soon because the virus will eventually be regarded as a cause of the common cold which means it won’t need daily case numbers.
Asked on BBC Breakfast about NHS staff shortages due to workers having to isolate, he said: “This is a disease that’s not going away.
“The infection is not going away, although we’re not going to see as severe disease for much longer.
“Ultimately, we’re going to have to let people who are positive with Covid go about their normal lives as they would do with any other cold. And so, at some point, we’ve got to relax this.
“If the self-isolation rules are what’s making the pain associated with Covid, then we need to do that perhaps sooner rather than later. Maybe not quite just yet.”
Sir John said the biggest threat to the NHS this winter is loss of staff who have to quarantine and not an influx of severely ill patients.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “So I think there are two issues. One is the impact of quarantining contacts — and of course those numbers have gone.
“And the stress on the health service at the moment, particularly in London, is the effect of the loss of staff because they’re quarantining because they’ve been in contact [with someone testing positive for Covid].
“So I think there will be a workforce issue emerging from that quite soon.”
He continued: “The important other aspect of this is, despite multiple waves — and that includes Delta but it also includes Alpha and Omicron — the incidence of severe disease and death from this disease has basically not changed since we all got vaccinated.
“And that is really important to remember because the horrific scenes we saw a year ago — intensive care units being full, lots of people dying prematurely — that is now history in my view and I think we should be reassured that that is likely to continue.”
The news comes as the UK saw 129,471 new Covid cases in the past 24 hours, a new daily record.