What happens if you test positive for Covid? Self-isolation rules after PCR and lateral flow tests explained

England’s rate of new Covid-19 cases has climbed to its highest level since the summer, according to new government figures

The UK is bracing for an uncertain winter ahead with both Covid-19 and flu circulating at the same time.

After months of lockdown and social distancing over the past year, health experts fear that natural immunity to flu may have weakened, meaning infections may be much higher than normal.

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England’s rate of new Covid-19 cases has already climbed to its highest level since the summer, according to new government figures.

A total of 201,660 cases were recorded in the week to 7 October, which is the equivalent of 356.6 per 100,000 people and the highest figure since 24 July, when the rate stood at 375.1.

It is hoped that the rollout of the Covid-19 booster jabs, coupled with the free flu vaccine for eligible groups, will help to keep infections down and avoid the need for another lockdown this winter.

However, if you do test positive for coronavirus, these are the rules for what to do next.

What do I do if I test positive for Covid?

If you test positive for Covid-19 from a PCR test, you must self-isolate straight away to avoid spreading the infection to other people.

The quarantine period includes the day your symptoms first started, or the day you took the test if you did not have any symptoms, and the next full 10 days.

If you were already self-isolating and took a test because you had been in close contact with someone who has Covid-19, your quarantine period restarts if you test positive.

If you live in a care home or in supported living, you may need to self-isolate for 14 days instead of 10.

Those who test positive from a lateral flow test should self-isolate straight away and report the result as soon as possible.

You should then get a PCR test to confirm you have Covid-19 and continue to quarantine until you get the result back. You should then follow the advice you are given with your test result.

In England, if the PCR test is taken within two days of a positive lateral flow test at a test site, and your PCR is negative, you can stop self-isolating.

If you take the PCR test later than this, you will need to quarantine for a full 10 days even if you get a negative PCR result.

Do people I live with need to self-isolate?

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

  • you are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 - this means that 14 days have passed since your second dose of a coronavirus vaccine 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 any Covid-19 symptoms, you should still get a PCR to check if you are infected with coronavirus and limit your contact with people who are at higher risk from the virus.

You should also inform people you have been in close contact with in the past 48 hours that you might have Covid-19.

They will not need to self-isolate unless they are contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service, or if they experience any symptoms.

What are the rules while self-isolating?

If you have tested positive for Covid-19 and are self-isolating, this means that you cannot leave your home to go to work, school, or any public places.

You must not go on public transport or use taxis, or go out to get food or medicine.

This must instead be ordered online, or you must ask someone to bring it to your home.

You must not have visitors inside your home, except for people providing essential care.

Rules also state that you cannot go out to exercise. Instead, you should exercise at home or in your garden if you have one.

Can I get support while self-isolating?

You can get help with everyday tasks while you are self-isolating, including collecting shopping or medicines, from an NHS volunteer.

You may also be eligible to receive sick pay or other types of financial support if you are unable to work.

More information is available about support while self-isolating on the NHS website.

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