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What you should do if you have COVID-19 symptoms, have tested positive, or have been in contact with somebody who has COVID-19.

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First published:
19 March 2020
Last updated:

Main points

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should self-isolate and take a PCR test as soon as possible. If you have tested positive for COVID-19 you must self-isolate for 10 days. 

If you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should follow this guidance.

If you are a close contact, self-isolation and what tests you should take will depend on your vaccination status, your age, your occupation and if someone in your household has tested positive or has symptoms. 

If you are a close contact of someone with the suspected or confirmed Omicron variant, you must self-isolate for 10 days, regardless of your vaccination status or age.

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means not leaving your home because you have or might have COVID-19.

It is a legal requirement to self-isolate if you are advised to do so by the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service. If you do not, you could receive a fixed penalty notice from the police of up to £1,920 or prosecution in a court, which can lead to an unlimited fine.

If you have symptoms of COVID-19

If you have any new symptoms of COVID-19, you should self-isolate and book a PCR test as soon as possible. This applies even if you have mild symptoms or if you have previously tested positive.

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • a high temperature
  • a continuous cough
  • loss or change of taste or smell

You should continue to isolate until you get the result of the test. If you have had a positive lateral flow test, you should isolate and book a PCR test as soon as possible.

If your test result is positive

If the result is positive, you should self-isolate from the day your symptoms started and for the next 10 days.

You can end self-isolation as long as you do not still have a high temperature. If you still have a high temperature, you should continue to self-isolate until your temperature has returned to normal.

You do not need to continue self-isolating for more than 10 days if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell or taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks following a COVID-19 infection.

If you do not have symptoms, but you test positive

You may be advised to take a PCR or lateral flow test if you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, or as part of workplace arrangements.

When advised to take a test by a contact tracer, if you have recently tested positive for COVID-19 (within the last 90 days) you should firstly take a lateral flow test instead of a PCR. This is because there is a risk that a PCR test may detect residual traces of the virus leftover in your body. 

If your test result is positive, you should self-isolate from the day of your test and for the next 10 days. 

If your positive result was from a lateral flow test, you should also take a PCR test within 24 hours. This is important as it will allow genetic sequencing in a laboratory to identify any potential variants of concern.

Close contacts

A close contact is anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19:

  • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a conversation within 1 metre
  • skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
  • contact within 1 metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
  • contact within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over 1 day)
  • travelled in the same vehicle or a plane

If you are a close contact, self-isolation and testing requirements will depend on a number of factors. This includes your vaccination status, your age, your occupation and if someone in your household has tested positive or has symptoms of COVID-19. 

Unvaccinated adults

If you are aged 18 and over, and not fully vaccinated, you must self-isolate from the day you were last in contact with the person who tested positive for COVID-19 and for the next 10 days.

You should also take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8. It is important that you take the tests even if you feel well as you may have COVID-19 even if you do not have symptoms.

Even if these tests are negative, you should complete the isolation period. This is because if you have been infected, it can take time for symptoms to develop or to become infectious to others.

If you are not able to be vaccinated for a clinical reason, you must self-isolate for 10 days, even if you get a negative PCR or lateral flow test result.

Omicron variant

If you are a close contact of someone who is confirmed or suspected to have the Omicron variant, you must self-isolate from the day you were last in contact with the person who tested positive and for the next 10 days, regardless of your vaccination status or age. Contact tracers will let you know if your contact is a confirmed or suspected case of the Omicron variant.

You should also take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8. It is important that you take the tests even if you feel well as you may have COVID-19 even if you do not have symptoms.

Even if these tests are negative, you must complete the isolation period. This is because if you have been infected, it can take time for symptoms to develop or to become infectious to others.

If the variant is suspected, you must isolate until it has been confirmed that the person who has tested positive does not have an Omicron variant. Once that happens Test, Trace, Protect service will contact you and advise on what to do next. This may mean you can leave self-isolation but it will depend on your age, vaccination status and nature of the contact.

Fully vaccinated adults and young people aged between 5 and 17

If you are a fully vaccinated adult, or a young person aged between 5 and 17, and you have not been identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed Omicron case, self-isolation and testing requirements will depend on whether someone in your household has symptoms or has tested positive.

Fully vaccinated in this context means:

  • you have been vaccinated with a Medicines & Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) approved COVID-19 vaccine in the UK
  • at least 14 days have passed since you received the recommended doses of the vaccine

You do not need to have received a booster vaccination to be considered fully vaccinated.

If someone in your household has symptoms or has tested positive

Household contact includes:

  • anyone who lives or sleeps in the same household
  • anyone spending significant time in the same household (including a house of multiple occupancy where a kitchen or bathroom are shared or students in university accommodation that share a kitchen)
  • sexual partners
  • people who have cleaned a household where a case lives without personal protective equipment

If you live or spend a significant amount of time in the same household as someone who has symptoms you should self-isolate and take a test as quickly as possible. If that person has tested positive, you should self-isolate and should take a PCR test as quickly as possible.

If your test is negative you can stop isolating but you should remain vigilant for new symptoms. You should try to avoid contact with vulnerable family and friends in the short-term (for example elderly relatives or those who are higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection).

If you are a close contact of someone from outside of your household

If you have been in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 and you do not live or spend a significant amount of time in the same household as that person, you do not need to self-isolate unless you have symptoms.

You should take a PCR test on day 2 and day 8. It is important that you take these tests even if you feel well as you may have COVID-19 even if you do not have symptoms.

If your test is negative, you should remain vigilant for new symptoms, and try to avoid contact with vulnerable family and friends in the short-term (for example elderly relatives or those who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19 infection.

Children under the age of 5

Unless identified as a close contact of a suspected or confirmed Omicron case, children under the age of 5 do not need to take a PCR or a lateral flow test, even if they have COVID-19 symptoms, unless advised by a doctor or if a parent believes a test is absolutely necessary and in the best interests of a child.

If they do have symptoms or if they have been a close contact of a positive case in their household or elsewhere, they do not need to complete any mandatory period of self-isolation. However, they should stay home until they are well enough to return to school or childcare settings.

If a child under 5 has symptoms, other household members do not need to isolate unless the child takes a test and has a positive result. If a child does take a test and the result is positive, then the child must also self-isolate for 10 days. 

Health and social care and special education provision workers

If you are a fully vaccinated close contact and you work in either health and social care or the special education provision sector, you may not be able to go to work during the 10 day period after the last contact.

You should refer to the separate guidance for health and social care workers or special educational provision workers and discuss with your manager.

Your employer may ask you to take additional tests as a precaution or be redeployed to a role where you are not facing individuals who have higher clinical risks or instructed not to attend work.

During your self-isolation period

Stay at home

You and everyone in your household who is not exempt must stay at home for the whole time you are self-isolating.

You should not:

  • go to work
  • go to school
  • go to the shops (even to buy food or essentials)
  • go to anyone else’s house
  • go to public places or places of worship
  • use public transport or taxis
  • go out to exercise

Exceptions

There are some exceptional reasons when you can leave your home when you are self-isolating:

  • to seek medical assistance, where this is urgent or you are advised to do so by a medical professional
  • where you are at serious risk of harm, such as to avoid domestic abuse or sexual violence
  • to meet a legal obligation or participate in court proceedings, if this cannot be done remotely from home
  • for compassionate reasons, such as attending the funeral of a family member or close friend
  • to move house, if you have to because it is no longer possible for you to stay where you are living
  • to access veterinary services, if nobody else can transport the animal to and from those services
  • to get basic necessities, but only if nobody else can do this for you and you cannot get them delivered
  • to access public services (including social services or victims’ services) where access to the service is critical to the person’s well-being, and the service cannot be provided if the person remains at the place where the person is living
  • to prevent illness, injury or other risk of harm to another person
  • to move to a different place to live to prevent illness to another person

Although you are allowed to leave home for these very limited purposes, you should think carefully about whether you have an alternative to doing so.

If you have to leave home and have no alternative, you should stay away from home for the shortest possible time. You should take every possible precaution to avoid infecting others. This includes maintaining the greatest possible distance from other people, avoiding public transport, and wearing a face covering. You should consider telling others that you may come into contact with (such as emergency appointments listed above) that you are self-isolating. This helps them make the necessary arrangements to enable social distancing and protect vulnerable staff members.

Medical appointments

You should cancel all routine medical and dental appointments whilst you or your household are self-isolating. You should call your GP, local hospital or outpatient service if you have been asked to attend in person whilst you are self-isolating. If your concerns are related to your COVID-19 symptoms contact NHS 111 Wales online coronavirus service. If you have no internet access, you should call 111.

If you need medical advice

It is important that anyone who has or develops symptoms whilst self-isolating does not try to cope for too long on their own before getting medical help. You should contact NHS 111 Wales or your GP if you experience any of the following:

  • symptoms that do not improve after 7 days
  • breathlessness or vomiting at any time
  • fatigue that stops you doing your normal daily activities
  • babies or children under 5 who have a temperature at any time

If it is a medical emergency dial 999 and tell the call handler or operator that you or your relative have COVID-19 symptoms.

Getting help whilst self-isolating

If you need help with buying groceries, other shopping or picking up medication, you should ask friends or family. You can order medication by phone or online. You can also order your shopping online. Make sure you tell delivery drivers to leave items outside for collection if you order online. The delivery driver should not come into your home.

Ways to avoid spreading coronavirus to people you live with

Avoid contact with other members of your household as much as possible

If you have symptoms of COVID-19, it is important to reduce the spread of infection to others in your household as much as possible.

If possible, you should:

  • stay in a well-ventilated room separate from other people in your home, with an outside window that can be opened
  • keep the door closed
  • use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household if possible
  • clean the bathroom regularly if you have to share these facilities, or try to use the facilities last and thoroughly clean the bathroom
  • use separate towels from other household members, for drying yourself and for hand hygiene purposes
  • avoid using shared spaces such as kitchens whilst others are present
  • take your meals back to your room to eat
  • wash your dishes using detergent and warm water and dry them, using a separate tea towel from the rest of the household, or use a dishwasher

If you have a vulnerable person living with you

If you can, arrange for anyone who is at increased risk from COVID-19 or clinically extremely vulnerable (those previously on the shielding patient list) to move out of your home. They could stay with friends or family for the self-isolation periods that you and your other household members need to complete at home.

If you cannot arrange for those vulnerable people to move out of your home, you should stay away from them as much as possible.

You should help those who are at increased risk or extremely vulnerable to minimise their contact with other people in your household during the self-isolation period. This is regardless of whether other household members have symptoms or not. You can also use this advice to protect all the people you live with.

Wash your hands often

Clean your hands frequently by washing with soap and water for 20 seconds or using hand sanitiser. This will help protect you and the people you live with. This is one of the most effective ways of reducing the risk of passing infection to others.

Cover your coughs and sneezes

Cover your mouth and nose with disposable tissues when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have one to hand, sneeze into the crook of your elbow, not into your hand. Dispose of tissues into a disposable rubbish bag and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitiser.

If you have a carer they should use disposable tissues to wipe away any mucus or phlegm after you have sneezed or coughed. Then they should wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitiser.

Face coverings

If you have any coronavirus symptoms or tested positive and you live with others, consider using a face covering inside your home when spending time in shared parts of the household. You should still avoid contact with other members of the household as much as possible. Wearing a face covering does not replace this.

Younger children may use face coverings if they wish, but they should never be used on children under age 3 on breathing safety grounds.

People who are self-isolating, and members of their household, should double bag disposable face coverings and store them for 72 hours before putting them in a ‘black bag’ waste bin. Reusable face coverings should be washed after use with your usual laundry.

Cleaning and disposing of waste

When cleaning you should use your usual household products, like detergents and bleach. These will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces. Regularly clean frequently touched surfaces like door handles, handrails, remote controls and table tops. This is particularly important if you have an “at risk” or extremely vulnerable person in your home. Clean a shared bathroom each time you use it, for example by wiping the surfaces you have touched.

Personal waste (such as used tissues or nappies) and disposable cleaning cloths can be stored separately in disposable rubbish bags. These bags should be placed into another bag, tied securely and kept separate from other waste. This should be put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in your usual external household waste bin.

Other household waste can be disposed of as normal.

Laundry

To minimise the possibility of dispersing virus through the air, do not shake dirty laundry. Wash items in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. All dirty laundry can be washed in the same load.

If you do not have a washing machine, wait 72 hours after your self-isolation has ended before you take the laundry to a public launderette.

Do not share towels, including hand towels and tea towels.

Do not have visitors in your home

You should not invite or allow anyone to enter your home whilst you or other members of your household are self-isolating. If you want to speak to someone who is not a member of your household, use the phone or social media.

If you or a member of our household receive essential care in your home then carers should continue to visit. Carers will be provided with facemasks and gloves to reduce the risk of you passing on the infection.

Breastfeeding while infected

There is currently no evidence to suggest that the virus can be transmitted through breast milk. Infection can be spread to the baby in the same way as to anyone in close contact with you.

If you or a family member are feeding with formula or expressed milk, you should sterilise the equipment carefully before each use. You should not share bottles or a breast pump with someone else.

You can find more information if you or someone you live with is breastfeeding or pregnant on the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists website.

Pets in the household

At this time, there is no evidence that pets can transmit the disease to humans. However, you should wash your hands after handling your pets or their waste. Read our advice for pet owners.

Treating COVID-19 symptoms at home

Drink water to keep yourself hydrated. You should drink enough during the day so your urine (pee) is a pale clear colour. You can use over-the-counter medications, such as paracetamol, to help with some of your COVID-19 symptoms. Use these according to the instructions on the packet or label and do not exceed the recommended dose.

It is important to remember to take care of your mind as well as your body and to get support if you need it. Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media. There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as the Every Mind Matters website.

Help and financial advice whilst self-isolating

Employers should not require you to go back to work if you have been notified by NHS Wales TTP that you need to self-isolate. They should enable or allow you to stay at home. This includes if you have tested positive for COVID-19 or been in close contact with someone who has tested positive.

If you are unable to work due to COVID-19, you could get support for help.

Financial support if you cannot work

You should tell your employer if you cannot work whilst self-isolating. You may be covered by their sick leave or special leave policy.

If you cannot get sick pay from your employer, you may be able to get Statutory Sick Pay or another type of financial support.

Find out more about Statutory Sick Pay, including eligibility and how to claim on GOV.UK.

Self-isolation (support scheme) payment

If you are on low-income and cannot work from home whilst self-isolating, you could get a payment of £750 to help with loss of earnings. You can only apply for the payment, if you’ve tested positive for COVID-19 or have been told to self-isolate by the NHS Wales Test, Trace Protect service.

Find out if you are eligible and how to apply for the Self-isolation payment.

Get a self-isolation note for your employer

If your employer has asked for a self-isolation note, use the COVID-19 symptom checker on NHS 111 Wales. The self-isolation notes are only available to patients who are advised to self-isolate by the online symptom checker. The self-isolation note generates a Unique Reference Number (URN) which an employer will be able to use to verify that your note is genuine.

Please do not call 111 as the call handlers will be unable to assist you.

If you still feel unwell after 7 days you should contact your GP. This may result in your GP issuing a fit note (amongst other investigative actions) which you will need to give to your employer.

If you have arranged to get a test for COVID-19 and the result is positive you will receive written notification of your positive status from TTP. This will also confirm your need to self-isolate for 10 days. This can be shared with your employer.

If TTP tells you to self-isolate as a close contact of someone who tested positive, you can be given written confirmation of this. You can share this with your employer.