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Information about coronavirus (COVID-19)

What is the current advice from the Government?

Following reports of a new strain of coronavirus known as Omicron in the UK, the Government has announced some changes to the current rules. This means:

  • Face coverings are a requirement on public transport, in all shops, and in other settings such as banks and hairdressers. Although face coverings aren't mandatory in other places, you're strongly advised to wear them in any indoor settings.
  • All travellers entering the UK are required to take a PCR test on day 2 and self-isolate until they receive a negative result.
  • Anyone testing positive for coronavirus must self-isolate for 10 days. Close contacts of people testing positive for the Omicron strain will also have to self-isolate even if they are fully vaccinated (Test and Trace will inform you if this applies to you).

Other rules will remain the same, which means:

  • There are no limits on the number of people you can meet up with – indoors or outdoors. This includes life events such as weddings, funerals and large events such as sports matches and festivals.
  • Social distancing is no longer a legal requirement – but it's strongly recommended in places such as hospitals.
  • You're no longer advised to work from home.
  • All businesses can be open.

The Government has also advised taking rapid lateral flow tests before spending time in crowded spaces or visiting people who are at more risk of becoming seriously ill with coronavirus.

What is coronavirus?

The novel coronavirus, formally called COVID-19, is part of a family of viruses that includes the common cold and 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 effect 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 scientist have evidence that a particular strain may have changed in ways that make it more likely to cause infections, it is officially labelled a ‘Variant of Concern’. The most recent ‘Variant of Concern’ has been labelled 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 are ‘shed’ by an infected person when they breath, talk and sing. These droplets can build up in the air in enclosed spaces where other people breath them in.
  • Someone gets close (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. 

This is why we are being advised to avoid close contact with others and avoid poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Wearing a mask indoors, 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 the virus to self-isolate.

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 and what should I do if I develop symptoms?

The most common symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • a persistent, dry cough – where you have 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 usual)
  • a high temperature, where you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a loss or changed sense of taste or smell

Other symptoms people are reporting include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat
  • a blocked/runny nose
  • stomach discomfort and diarrhoea
  • confusion or delirium

If you develop any coronavirus symptoms, you must self-isolate and book a 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.

Do I have to socially distance from others?

Even though we're no longer legally obliged to socially distance ourselves from others, that doesn't mean we can't still keep our distance. 

You may still choose to keep your distance from people you don't know or when you're out and about – or decide you want to keep close contact, such as hugging, to a minimum for the time being. Or you might choose to travel or go to the shops when it's not as busy to make it easier for you to keep your distance. And that's OK. 

Though you can't control what others do, you don't have to do anything you're not comfortable with. 

Social distance and face coverings

You may still be asked by certain transport providers, businesses or in certain health care settings to wear a face covering or respect social distancing when using their services or entering their premises.

Do I have to wear a mask or face covering?

You are required to wear a mask in certain settings unless you are exempt. These settings include:

  • public transport and taxis
  • shops, shopping centres and supermarkets
  • post offices
  • banks
  • hairdressers, nail salons, and other personal care service providers
  • pharmacies
  • takeaways (where there isn't any space for eating and drinking)
  • airports and train stations.

Although masks are not a legal requirement in other settings such as restaurants, you're still advised to wear a face covering in any busy indoor spaces.

If you're in a situation when you have to be in close contact with others, such as if a tradesperson needs to come into your home, you can ask them if they would mind wearing a mask – but they're not obliged to do so and may be exempt.

Do I have to self-isolate?

You have to self-isolate for any of the following reasons:

  • You or someone you live with has coronavirus symptoms.
  • You get a positive coronavirus test result. 
  • You're advised to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service because you've been in contact with someone who has tested positive. 
  • You've recently returned from a country on the amber (unless you've had both coronavirus vaccine doses) or red travel list which requires you to self-isolate. 

You should self-isolate for 10 days from when you first had coronavirus symptoms or from the day you got a positive coronavirus test result unless told otherwise or you're part of an 'early release' scheme. 

From 16 August, you won't have to self-isolate if you've been in close contact with someone that's tested positive from coronavirus if you've had both vaccine doses or you're under 18 years old. 

However the Government has announced that close contacts of people infected with the Omicron variant of covid will need to self-isolate even if they have been fully vaccinated. This is an additional precaution while scientist gather more information about this new strain. You will be informed by Test and Trace is this applied to you.

If you have to self-isolate and need support with things like shopping, you can contact your local Age UK or the NHS Volunteers Responder scheme

Are some people more at risk from coronavirus?

The current guidance is in place for everyone – however, if you're 'clinically extremely vulnerable' and were previously 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 (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: Nov 30 2021

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