Do I need to isolate while waiting for PCR test results? Covid self isolation rules explained - who is exempt

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Covid-19 infections are continuing to rise following the detection of the new Omicron variant in the UK

Covid-19 cases are continuing to increase across the UK following the detection of the Omicron variant, with the variant causing around 200,000 new infections per day.

The UK government has implemented several new measures as part of efforts to minimise the risk of further spread, including making face masks mandatory in indoor venues in England, and reintroducing day two PCR tests for travellers returning to the UK from abroad. Self-isolation rules have also changed.

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If you are unsure about the latest rules, here’s everything you need to know about when to stay at home.

When do I need to self-isolate?

You should self-isolate at home straight away and order a PCR test via the government website as soon as possible if you have any of the following symptoms, even if they are mild:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

Additionally, you should also self-isolate immediately if:

  • you have tested positive for Covid-19
  • someone you live with has symptoms or tested positive for Covid-19 - unless you meet the criteria to be exempt
  • you have been told to self-isolate following contact with someone who tested positive

From Tuesday (14 December), anyone who is double jabbed and identified as a contact of someone with Covid-19 in England must take a daily lateral flow test for seven days instead of self isolating.

This guidance applies to all cases of coronavirus, regardless of whether it is the Omicron variant or other strains.

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The daily testing has replaced the former rule which required all Omicron contacts to isolate for 10 days, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said.

All adults who are unvaccinated are not eligible for the new daily testing policy. Instead, those who have not been fully jabbed must self isolate for 10 days if they are a contact of someone who tests positive for Covid-19.

Travellers returning to the UK from abroad are also required to self-isolate until they receive confirmation of a negative PCR test.

Do I need to isolate while waiting for PCR test results?

You should isolate at home while waiting for a PCR test kit to arrive, or for a test site appointment, or for confirmation of your test result.

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While waiting for your test and results, you should not leave home to go to work, school, or public areas, and must not use public transport or taxis.

Government guidance states that if you  need to leave your home to get to a test site, you should wear a face covering, stay at least two metres apart from other people who you do not live with, and return home immediately afterwards.

How long do I need to self-isolate?

If you are required to self-isolate, the isolation period includes the date you were last in contact with the person who has tested positive and the next 10 full days.

During this period, you must stay at home and not leave your house to go to work, school, or public areas, or use public transport.

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You must not go outside to buy food or other essentials, except in specific limited circumstances.

Exercise must only be taken within your home, garden or private outdoor space.

In some cases, the person you have been in close contact with will be asked by NHS Test and Trace to take a follow up Covid-19 test.

If this result is negative you will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace to let you know you can stop self-isolating.

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You can only end self-isolation before 10 full days are complete if you have been contacted by NHS Test and Trace and advised to do so.

When do I not need to self-isolate?

If you live with someone who has symptoms of Covid-19, or has tested positive, you do not need to self-isolate if you meet the following criteria:

  • you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – this means 14 days have passed since your second vaccine dose given by the NHS
  • you are under 18 years, six months old
  • you are taking part or have taken part in a Covid-19 vaccine trial
  • you are not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons

Even if you do not have symptoms, you should still order a PCR test to check if you have Covid-19 and limit your contact with people who are at high risk from the virus.

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