This article tells you what you need to do if you develop symptoms of coronavirus, or need to self-isolate because you have come into contact with someone who has coronavirus. For information about more general ‘lockdown’ rules, categories of vulnerable patients, and how to get assistance if you need it, see this article.

If you are unwell

The main common symptoms of coronavirus are:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss of sense of smell.

If you have any of these symptoms you should self-isolate and get tested for coronavirus. There are details below of how to get a test, depending on where you live in the UK.

If you have to self-isolate

In all nations of the UK, you will be required to self-isolate if you develop coronavirus, or in certain other circumstances where you might have had contact with someone who has coronavirus. The rules for each nation are given below, but the basic rules of self-isolation are the same throughout the UK. 

You must stay at home entirely. Do not visit a hospital, GP surgery or any other facility. Do not go to work. Do not go outside for exercise. Do not go out to buy food or medicines. If you need help with supplies, see this article for ways of getting it.

The Government recognises that following these rules completely may not be possible for those living with children, or looking after people with learning disabilities, autism or serious mental illness. Even so, you should stick to them as closely as you can.

If you live with other people, avoid contact with them as much as possible to minimise the risk to them of catching coronavirus. Stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened, separate from other people in your home if this is possible. Keep the door closed. Use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household, if available. If you have to share a bathroom, consider how to keep your use of it separate: a rota for baths or showers may be a good idea. Ensure you use the bathroom last, and clean it afterwards. Use separate towels. Avoid using the kitchen at the same time as other people. Take your food back to the room you are staying in to eat it, and wash crockery and cutlery thoroughly.

If you live with someone who is clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable (see this article for an explanation of these two groups), ideally they should move out and stay with friends or family during your isolation period. If this is not possible, stay away from them as much as you can, following the guidance above. If the other person is clinically extremely vulnerable, ensure they follow the ‘shielding’ guidance.

People who have to self-isolate will be eligible for statutory sick pay if they are unable to work from home. This applies across the four nations of the UK. Employers are being advised to offer staff the option of taking paid annual leave if they prefer, but it is not compulsory for employees to agree to this. Self-employed people may be able to claim a grant through the Self-Employment Income Support Scheme.

Testing and contact tracing systems across the UK

England
Scotland
Wales
Northern Ireland 

Test and Trace: England

The NHS Test and Trace service in England means there is now a new set of rules and processes for dealing with a case of coronavirus.

If you develop coronavirus

If you experience a symptom of coronavirus (a new continuous cough, high temperature or changed sense of smell or taste), you should self-isolate for at least 7 days. Anyone else in your household should self-isolate for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

You should order a coronavirus test immediately at nhs.uk/coronavirus, or call 119 if you have no internet access.

An email address and phone number are currently required to book a test, but if you do not have an email address yourself you can ask someone you trust, such as a family member, to receive your results.

If your test is positive (that means you have coronavirus) you must complete the remainder of your 7-day self-isolation. Anyone in your household should also complete self-isolation for 14 days from when you started having symptoms.

If your test is negative (that means you don’t have coronavirus), you and other household members no longer need to isolate.

If you test positive for coronavirus, the NHS Test and Trace service will send you a text or email alert or call you within 24 hours with instructions of how to share details of places you have visited and people you have been in close, recent contact with.

The following will be counted as ‘contacts’:

  • Sexual partners or people who spend significant time in the same household as a person who has tested positive for coronavirus
  • A person who has had face-to-face contact (within one metre) with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, including
    • Being coughed on
    • Having a face-to-face conversation
    • Having skin-to-skin physical contact
    • Any contact within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
  • A person who has been between one and two metres from someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) for more than 15 minutes
  • A person who has travelled in a small vehicle or on a plane near someone who has tested positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).

People working in health and social care professional roles who have correctly used personal protective equipment (PPE) as part of their employment are not considered to be a contact for these purposes.

When the Test and Trace service gets in touch, you should respond as soon as possible. You will be asked to do this online via a secure website, or you will be called by an NHS contact tracer. If the NHS Test and Trace Service calls you but you do not wish to talk over the phone, they will offer to send you details for the secure online system. If you talk to a contact tracer over the phone, they will work with you to help you remember everyone you have had contact with, as listed above, while you could have been infectious.

You don’t need to worry about the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) if you are speaking with a contact tracer: it is legal for you to share people’s contact details for this purpose. The details you share will be kept confidential, and nobody will be given your name as the person they have been in contact with.

If you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus

You will be alerted by the NHS Test and Trace service if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus.

The alert will come either by text or email and you’ll need to log on to the NHS Test and Trace website. If you can’t use the website, a trained call handler will talk you through what you need to do.

Under 18s will get a phone call and a parent or guardian will be asked to give permission for the call to continue.

You will be asked to begin self-isolation for up to 14 days, depending on when you last came into contact with the person who has tested positive. You will be asked to do this even if you are not showing symptoms, which can take up to 14 days to appear. This is to avoid you unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Your household doesn’t need to self-isolate with you, but they must take extra care to follow the guidance on social distancing and hand hygiene.

There are currently no checks to make sure people are self-isolating, or penalties for failing to self-isolate, but these may be introduced if compliance levels are not adequate to contain the virus.

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, other members of your household should self-isolate at home and you should book a coronavirus test at nhs.uk/coronavirus or call 119 if you have no internet access. If your test is positive you must continue to stay at home for 7 days. If your test is negative, you must still complete your 14 day self-isolation period because the virus may not be detectable yet.

The NHS app

The NHS’s contact-tracking app has not yet been launched, but is due to be launched soon.

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Test and Protect: Scotland

The Test and Protect service in Scotland means there is now a new set of rules and processes for dealing with a case of coronavirus.

If you develop coronavirus

If you experience a symptom of coronavirus (a new continuous cough, high temperature or changed sense of smell or taste), you should self-isolate for at least 7 days.

You should order a coronavirus test immediately at NHS Inform, or call 0800 028 2816 if you have no internet access.

If your test is negative, and you do not have coronavirus, you can end your self-isolation.

If your test is positive, you will be contacted by a clinician, who will ask you about your recent movements and who you have been in contact with. They will use this information to identify who needs to be contacted and told they have been in contact with a person with coronavirus. They will not be told who it was.

If you have been in contact with someone with coronavirus

If you live with someone who has symptoms or has tested positive, you will be asked to self-isolate at home for 14 days.

You may also be asked to self-isolate if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for coronavirus. If nobody else in your household has been in contact with a person known to have coronavirus, they will not be asked to self-isolate. However, if you develop symptoms you should get tested, and if you test positive other household members will have to begin their own 14 day period of self-isolation.

A close contact is someone who has been physically close enough to the confirmed case for a long enough period of time, that they may have had the virus transmitted to them. The risk of the virus being transmitted is higher the closer the contact, the greater the exposure to respiratory droplets (for example from coughing), and the longer the duration of the contact. This includes someone living in the same household, someone who had direct or physical contact with an infected person, or someone who has remained within two metres of the patient for longer than 15 minutes. People who have passed the patient in the street or in a shop are at very low risk and will not be traced.

It is not clear from information published to date on the Scot.gov website whether all contacts will be asked to self-isolate or not. This page says that they will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, in line with practice elsewhere in the UK. This page says that contacts will be given information, but not asked to self-isolate unless they are at higher risk of infection.

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Wales

A Welsh contact tracing system is currently being piloted in four health board areas. This article will be updated with details of the system in Wales when it is fully implemented.

If you need to book a test in Wales, you can request a home testing kit on this page. Unlike the rest of the UK, you cannot yet book a slot at a testing site via that page. If you are not comfortable using online methods, you can call 119.

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Contact tracing: Northern Ireland

If you have any of the three main symptoms of coronavirus and are aged over five, you are eligible for a test. You should get tested within the first three days of developing symptoms, although testing can still be effective up to the fifth day. This page has full details of testing in Northern Ireland. 

If you need to book a test in Northern Ireland but are not comfortable using online methods, you can call 0300 303 2713.

A contact tracing service is available in Northern Ireland, operated exclusively by telephone. Anyone who tests positive for coronavirus will be contacted by the service.

People who have been in contact with a person who has developed coronavirus will be contacted and given advice on what to do. Detailed guidance has not been published online to date.

The Northern Ireland Executive is working on a contact tracing app that will be able to share data with systems in the Republic of Ireland. People in Northern Ireland will also be able to use the UK Government’s app if they wish to.

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Last updated: 28th May 2020, 15:30.