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Coronavirus, sometimes referred to as 'COVID-19', is part of a family of viruses that affects your lungs and airways. Although many of the previous rules and restrictions are no longer in place, there's still government guidance that you can follow to help keep you and your loved ones safe and well. 

What is coronavirus (COVID-19)?

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.

Coronavirus affects your lungs and airways. For many people, coronavirus causes mild to moderate symptoms and they'll be able to recover without needing special treatment. However, for others, coronavirus can be much more serious – they'll need medical attention and hospital treatment.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Common symptoms of coronavirus include:

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

Other symptoms people have reported include:

  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • an aching body
  • stomach discomfort and diarrhoea
  • feeling or being sick
  • a loss of appetite 
  • feeling breathless 
  • a blocked or runny nose.

Coronavirus symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, like the common cold and the flu.

Find out more about the flu (influenza)

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

What are the long-term effects of coronavirus ('long COVID symptoms')?

Most people with coronavirus symptoms feel better within a few days and make a full recovery within weeks. However, others can feel the effects for some time after. These long-term effects of coronavirus are sometimes referred to as 'long COVID'.

The most common symptoms of long COVID are: 

  • feeling short of breath
  • extreme tiredness
  • loss of smell or taste
  • muscle aches. 

But there are lots of other symptoms, including brain fog, difficulty sleeping, depression and anxiety. 

If you've had coronavirus symptoms for more than 4 weeks and you're worried that they're not easing up, contact your GP or healthcare professional.

How can I stop myself catching coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Coronavirus spreads very easily and in much the same way as the common cold or flu. Infected droplets – from coughs or sneezes – spread from person to person. This means there are simple measures you can take to prevent the spread of coronavirus, such as: 

  • regularly washing your hands with soap and water
  • catching coughs and sneezes in a tissue or handkerchief 
  • wearing a face mask or covering
  • avoiding close contact with people who are poorly
  • meeting up with people outside or in well-ventilated spaces
  • prioritising the people and events that matter most to you and reducing other social contact.

However, the best way to protect yourself from coronavirus is to make sure you're fully vaccinated – including any booster jabs you're eligible for. Booster jabs are important because research has shown that the protection the vaccines provide starts to decrease as time goes on. Plus, vaccines are being updated all the time to protect you from more recent variants of coronavirus.

How long is the COVID incubation period?

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.

People are most likely to spread the virus to other people when they're experiencing symptoms, which is why it's important to stay at home if you have symptoms or have tested positive for coronavirus.

Is the coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccine safe?

Yes – the UK regulator and the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI – the independent experts that advise the government on all vaccines) have assessed all approved vaccines to be safe and able to offer a high level of protection against becoming severely unwell with coronavirus, including for older people.

While there are different vaccines available, no one will receive a vaccine that hasn’t gone through a proper process of approval and been shown to be safe.

Find out more about the coronavirus vaccine and other coronavirus treatments


Who can get a coronavirus (COVID-19) booster jab?

The NHS will contact you if your NHS record suggests you might be eligible for a seasonal spring booster jab.

From April 2024, you might be offered the COVID-19 vaccine if you:

  • are aged 75 or over
  • live in a care home for older adults
  • are aged 6 months old or over and have a weakened immune system.

The programme should begin on 15 April 2024 with housebound people, then all other eligible groups from 22 April 2024 – 30 June 2024.

If you haven't had your first or second dose of the vaccine, or you've missed an earlier booster jab, you can have a dose if you're eligible for this season's booster jab.

How can I get my coronavirus (COVID-19) jab?

There are a few different ways you can book in for a coronavirus vaccine or booster if you're eligible. 

Booking your COVID-19 jab online 

You can book or manage a COVID-19 vaccination appointment online through the NHS website once the service reopens for the latest booster programme. You can use this online service if you're 18 or over and registered with a GP surgery in England. 

Use the COVID-19 online service on the NHS website

Booking your COVID-19 jab over the phone

If you can't use the online service, or simply don't want to, you can also call 119 free of charge to book over the phone. You can speak to a translator if you need to.

When booking your appointments, it may be helpful to have your NHS number to hand – you can find it on letters from the NHS or on some prescription medications.

Visit a COVID-19 walk-in vaccination site

Some pharmacies in England have walk-in vaccination sites where, if you're eligible, you can turn up and get your jab without making an appointment or being registered with a GP. 

Find your nearest walk-in vaccination site on the NHS website

Get your flu jab

It's important that you get your flu jab as well as your coronavirus booster this winter – they're different vaccinations that protect you against different viruses.

What should I do if I have coronavirus (COVID-19)?

There aren't currently any restrictions or rules in place for what to do if you have symptoms of coronavirus, test positive, or both. However, current guidance recommends that people who catch coronavirus should 'try to stay at home'.  

What should I do if I have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)? 

Where possible, try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you or the people you live with have coronavirus symptoms and have a high temperature or don't feel well enough to carry out your usual activities. 

You can treat many symptoms of coronavirus at home. 

  • If you have a high temperature – get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids and, if you feel uncomfortable, take over-the-counter painkillers such as paracetamol or ibuprofen. 
  • If you have a cough – lie on your side or sit upright instead of lying on your back and try having a teaspoon of honey to ease any soreness. 
  • If you're feeling breathless – keep your room cool by turning the heating down or opening a window and sit upright in a chair.

What should I do if I test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19)?

You no longer have to test for coronavirus if you're showing the symptoms. However, if you do decide to test and you do test positive, the NHS advises people to try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the test was taken. You should also avoid meeting people wo are more likely to get seriously ill for 10 days after the test was taken, such as people with a weakened immune system.

What are the current coronavirus (COVID-19) rules and restrictions?

There aren't currently any coronavirus restrictions in the UK. However, if you're travelling abroad, it's a good idea to check the travel advice for any country you're travelling to. 

Find out more about different countries' travel advice on GOV.UK

Do I need to self isolate? 

You no longer have to self-isolate if you test positive for coronavirus or are in contact with someone who has. 

However, we strongly advise that if you do test positive for coronavirus you stay at home and avoid contact with people, particularly anyone who's vulnerable – even if you live in the same household.

Do I need to wear a face mask or covering?

It's no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering. However, you may feel more comfortable wearing one in busy or enclosed spaces. Some places, such as healthcare settings, may require or encourage you to wear a face mask or covering when entering their building or using their services. 

What is the current guidance for care homes and visitors?

The government has published guidance to help care homes ensure that visits can take place as safely as possible.

What's the guidance for care home residents who have symptoms and aren't eligible for COVID-19 treatments?

Care home residents who have symptoms of a respiratory infection and have a high temperature or don't feel well enough to do their usual activities are advised to avoid contact with other people. They should be supported to stay away from others until they feel better. These residents aren't required to take a coronavirus test and are able to have at least one visitor during this time, as long as appropriate precautionary measures are taken.

What's the guidance for care home residents who have a positive COVID-19 test result?

Care home residents who test positive should be supported to:

  • stay away from others for a minimum of 5 days after the day they took the test
  • access appropriate treatments as quickly as possible if they're eligible
  • receive at least one visitor at a time with appropriate precautions – there may be more than one visitor if they require accompaniment (for example if they require support or for a parent accompanying a child).
  • go into outdoor spaces within the care home grounds through a route where they're not in contact with other residents
  • avoid contact with other people who are eligible for COVID-19 treatments for 10 days after a positive test result.

What about access inside the care home and visits outside?

Overall, the government's guidance emphasises the fact that contact with relatives and friends is fundamental to care home residents’ health and wellbeing and visiting should be supported. Given this, there shouldn't normally be any restrictions to visits into or out of the care home – the right to private and family life is a human right protected in law. Other guidance includes the following:

  • Visitors should follow the processes put in place by the care home, such as regular washing their hands and wearing face masks or coverings. It's a good idea for visitors to consider receiving any COVID-19 and flu vaccines they're eligible for.
  • Visitors shouldn't enter the care home if they're feeling unwell, even if they've tested negative for COVID-19, are fully vaccinated and have received their booster.
  • In the event of an outbreak of COVID-19, each resident should (as a minimum) be able to have one visitor at a time inside the care home. This visitor doesn't need to be the same person throughout the outbreak and they don't need to be a family member.
  • End-of-life visiting should be supported in all circumstances.

Phone icon We're here to help

We offer support through our free advice line on 0800 678 1602. Lines are open 8am-7pm, 365 days a year. We also have specialist advisers at over 120 local Age UKs.


Last updated: May 01 2024

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