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Information about coronavirus (COVID-19)

Coronavirus is a virus that affects your lungs and airways. Find out about the symptoms of coronavirus and the steps to take to stop it spreading.    

The latest government guidance

The latest guidance is changing. We've put together a page outlining the latest government guidance and what it might mean for you.


What is coronavirus?

Coronavirus, also called COVID-19, is part of a family of viruses that includes the common cold and more serious respiratory illnesses such as SARS.

It affects your lungs and airways. For many people, it causes mild symptoms, while for others it can be much more serious and require hospital treatment.


What are new variants of coronavirus?

All viruses can mutate and change over time. Sometimes these changes can affect the way a virus behaves - for example, it can become more infectious and pass more easily from person to person.

Scientists in the UK and around the world have been tracking coronavirus strains as they have emerged over the last two years. When scientists have evidence that a particular strain may have changed in ways that make it more likely to make people ill, it is officially labelled a ‘variant of concern’. The most recent variant of concern has been called Omicron.


How does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is very infectious, which means it spreads very easily.

It spreads in much the same way as the common cold or flu – through infected respiratory droplets like coughs and sneezes – and passes from person to person. This can happen when: 

  • droplets of the virus build up in the air in enclosed spaces and other people breathe them in
  • someone spends time in close proximity (less than 1-2 metres) to someone who is infectious
  • an infectious person gets the virus on their hands (for example by coughing in their hand) and then touches a commonly used surface, such as a door handle, which someone else then touches.

Coronavirus mainly spreads through the air, which is is why we are being advised to avoid poorly ventilated indoors spaces and close contact with others. Wearing a mask indoors also reduces the spread of the virus by catching the droplets when people talk, cough and breathe. Washing our hands thoroughly and frequently, and wiping down surfaces with disinfectant can also help reduce the spread of the virus.

The average ‘incubation period’ – the time between coming into contact with the virus and experiencing symptoms – is 5 days, but it could be anything between 1 and 14 days. This is why the government is asking everyone who has come into contact with someone with the virus to take a daily lateral flow test for 7 days.

People are most likely to spread the virus to other people when they are experiencing symptoms, which is why it is important to follow guidance on staying at home if you have symptoms, have tested positive for coronavirus, or have been advised by the Test and Trace service to self-isolate.

However, don’t forget people can be infectious before they know they are ill.


What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

Common symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • a persistent, dry cough - typically if you've been coughing a lot for more than an hour or have had 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than normal)
  • a high temperature, where you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a loss or change in your sense of smell or taste.

Other symptoms people are reporting include:

  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • a blocked/runny nose
  • stomach discomfort and diarrhoea
  • feeling breathless 
  • confusion or delirium

If you develop symptoms, you must self-isolate and book a PCR test as soon as possible. You can get a test by visiting the NHS website or by calling 119.

If your symptoms get worse, feel unmanageable, or you feel breathless, then you should call 111 or use NHS online.

Do you need to be tested for coronavirus?

You can get a coronavirus test for free through the Test and Trace service. We have more information about the types of test and how to get one.


Are some people more at risk from coronavirus?

The current guidance is in place for everyone – however, if you've ever been advised you are 'clinically extremely vulnerable' or have previously been advised to shield then you might want to take extra precautions to reduce the risk of catching coronavirus. These include:

  • limiting the number of people you meet and reducing close contact with others, especially indoors
  • getting your vaccine and booster (if you haven't already) and considering whether others you meet have had theirs
  • practising good hygiene measures, such as regularly washing your hands and cleaning high-contact areas
  • socially distancing from others where possible
  • wearing a face covering in busier settings 
  • making use of free lateral flow tests and asking those you meet to do the same
  • visiting shops and other busier places at quieter times
  • using online delivery where possible

You may be able to get support from NHS Volunteer Responders, who can help with delivering shopping and medication, giving lifts to medical appointments and providing check-in calls. 

Also, other charities that help people affected by specific conditions have put together their own helpful information that might be relevant for you:

Other medical conditions and upcoming appointments

The health service is still open for you. You might be worried about the strain the NHS is under or be avoiding the GP or hospital because of coronavirus. But your medical needs are just as important as before. We have information about accessing the health service at the moment.


How can I reduce my risk of catching or spreading coronavirus?

Just because the government's guidance has changed, it doesn't mean there aren't measures you can still take to reduce the risk of spreading or catching coronavirus:

  • Spend time with others outdoors where possible or ensure indoor spaces are well ventilated (for example by opening the windows).
  • Keep your distance from others.
  • Wear a face covering – particularly in busier indoor settings.
  • Don't meet in big groups with people you don't know.
  • Avoid busy places where possible.
  • Self-isolate when required to do so. 

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Last updated: Dec 17 2021

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