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The length of time people with coronavirus symptoms in England will have to self-isolate for is to be increased from seven to 10 days, England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam has confirmed.

He told reporters the change was being made due to the “low but real possibility of infectiousness” between seven and 10 days after the onset of the illness.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock earlier said the science had been “developing” and the Government wanted to take a “precautionary approach to make sure that we can keep people in this country as safe as possible”.

The UK’s chief medical officers, Professor Chris Whitty, Dr Frank Atherton, Dr Gregor Smith and Dr Michael McBride, said the decision “will provide additional protection to others in the community”.

A joint statement said: “In symptomatic people Covid-19 is most infectious just before, and for the first few days after symptoms begin. It is very important people with symptoms self-isolate and get a test, which will allow contact tracing.

“Evidence, although still limited, has strengthened and shows that people with Covid-19 who are mildly ill and are recovering have a low but real possibility of infectiousness between seven and nine days after illness onset.”

The medical officers said it is “now the correct balance of risk to extend the self-isolation period from seven to 10 days for those in the community who have symptoms or a positive test result”.

“This will help provide additional protection to others in the community,” they said.

Professor Jonathan Van-Tam confirmed the changes to the self-isolation advice (10 Downing Street/AFP via Getty)

“This is particularly important to protect those who have been shielding and in advance of the autumn and winter when we may see increased community transmission.”

Mr Hancock earlier warned that a new spike in Covid-19 cases is “clearly” beginning to emerge in Europe as he said “we’ve got to do everything” to prevent it reaching the UK.

“I am worried about a second wave. I think you can see a second wave starting to roll across Europe and we’ve got to do everything we can to prevent it from reaching these shores and to tackle it,” Mr Hancock told Sky News.

He said 10-day isolation measure was “part of that, but so too are the measures we’re taking, for instance, to ensure that we don’t directly bring cases back to this country where there’s a big spike in cases”.

“So, absolutely, on a second wave it is something I worry about and I worry about it because we can see it happening,” he said.

Scientists at Cambridge University said it is “very likely” that most regions in England are close to the point at which the virus begins to spread exponentially.

Mr Hancock also warned travellers that new countries could be added to the quarantine list in the coming days after passengers arriving in the UK from Spain were ordered to isolate for two weeks as cases there increased.

He said ministers are looking at ways to reduce the 14-day period, possibly by the use of multiple tests, amid pressure from the tourism industry.

But he said ministers are constantly considering whether to add countries to the quarantine list and when pressed if new nations could be added in the next few days, he replied: “Yes.”