The number of people self-isolating after testing positive for Covid plummeted after Freedom Day in England, official data shows.
Just 64 per cent of people with the disease said they stayed home and quarantined for at least five days between February 28 and March 8, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
That was down from 80 per cent at the start of February, before the rule to self-isolate after a diagnosis was downgraded from law to guidance on February 24.
Experts said it highlighted a ‘significant’ drop-off in adherence, coinciding with a surge in cases in England over the last month.
The ONS report — based on a survey of more than 1,300 people — found a third of all people interviewed did not fully understand the new self-isolation rules.
Nearly one in 10 claimed they did not realise they were not advised to go to the shops, walk the dog or drop their children off at school while isolating.
Just six per cent were more flagrant of the rules, deliberately ignoring guidance by going to work or seeing their family.
Two thirds of Britons stuck to self-isolation guidance at the start of the month after the law to remain at home was dropped by the Government, according to an Office for National Statistics (ONS) survey
The report also showed three in 10 people who isolated did so for 10 days or more.
Only 67 per cent of people interviewed said they understood the guidance during the most recent most recent week.
The rest either misunderstood or were unsure of what had changed.
Eight per cent said they could go out to take their children to school or walk their dog during isolation.
And 11 per cent claimed they thought advice allowed for trips to the shops for groceries, toiletries or medicine.
Guidance states people in self-isolation have to remain at home for the entire five days and ask friends or family to get them food and other essentials if possible.
They are also asked to cancel routine medical and dental appointments and consult their GP or dentists if they are worried about symptoms.
Of those who did not follow the advice, 94 per cent said they left the house for ‘non-compliant’ reasons.
This was up from 85 per cent the previous week and marked a record high, statisticians said.
Tim Gibbs, head of the public services analysis team at ONS, said: ‘Now the legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid has been removed in England, our data today reveal more about adherence to these rules.
‘Compliance with self-isolation rules was significantly lower than the level reported in February 2022, when self-isolation was a legal requirement.
‘Despite this, we are seeing that almost all respondents agreed that it was important to follow self-isolation advice.’
Despite the higher proportion of people ignoring the advice to isolate, some experts claim it should not be a concern because vaccination has kept Covid hospitalisations and deaths low.
Professor David Livermore, a medical microbiologist at the University of East Anglia, told MailOnline: ‘I don’t think it matters.’
He said the milder Omicron and BA.2 variants meant more people were catching the virus without dying, leading to greater immunity on top of vaccines.
However, he advised people to avoid visiting more vulnerable relatives if they are unwell.
Isolation remained a legal requirement for people in Wales until Monday following a positive test. It will not be dropped until April 30 in Scotland, under current plans.
Scotland has seen the highest spike in cases of any of Britain’s four nations despite continuing to have the most stringent Covid measures.
Despite fears cases were spiralling again following the loosening of restrictions, Britain’s cases fell over the weekend in a sign that the current wave may be peaking.
There were 215,001 positive tests recorded from Saturday to Monday marking a five per cent drop on last week’s same tally, Government data showed.
Ministers stopped publishing daily figures on the weekend at the end of last month as part of the living with Covid strategy, and are now considering scrapping the 24-hour updates entirely.
There are growing suggestions that infections, which also fell last Friday, could be peaking, four days before free lateral flow and PCR tests are dumped in England. They will remain available in Scotland until May, and in Wales until the end of June.
Experts have repeatedly called on ministers not to end the universal swabbing offer, warning it will leave them in the dark over major outbreaks in parts of the country.
But No10 today insisted it would not backtrack, arguing the country was now in a ‘vastly different’ position to last April when the tests first became available to all.