Coronavirus restrictions are being eased across the country as the UK adapts to ‘living with the virus’.
People who live in England and Northern Ireland are now advised to follow government guidance rather than legally enforceable rules, while Covid remaining measures in Scotland and Wales are expected to be lifted later this month.
The change in guidance comes following a decline in infections, with scientists saying the Omicron wave in the UK has now peaked.
People are no longer legally obligated to stay at home if they test positive but the official advice still remains that people stay at home for five days to avoid further transmission.
The new guidance is part of Boris Johnson’s strategy “living with Covid” which moves away from “state mandation” to “personal responsibility”.
However, the Prime Minister has warned that the pandemic is “not over” and people are urged to remain cautious as the virus is still circulating.
If you do fall ill with Covid, this is what you need to know about the contagious period and how long you will need to quarantine, depening on where you live in the UK.
How long are you contagious with Covid?
Covid is spread via small droplets in the air and is easily transmitted through close contact with people who are infected.
It is spread when a person with the virus breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, and can be passed on even if someone does not have any symptoms.
It can also be picked up by touching surfaces where infected droplets have landed, so it is important to thoroughly wash your hands to minimise the risk.
People who have Covid can pass the virus to others from around two days before they start to display symptoms.
Those infected can then remain contagious for up to 10 days after symptoms appear, according to the UK government.
It is possible to spread the virus to others even if symptoms are mild, or non-existent, which is why you must self-isolate if you contract it.
When are you most infectious after a positive test?
Findings from a study published in The Lancet Microbe last year suggested that people are most infectious in the first five days after the onset of symptoms.
However, more recent research, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, found people are most contagious two days before and three days after they develop symptoms.
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said that adults with mild to moderate symptoms remain infectious no longer than 10 days after symptoms begin, regardless of the variant.
However, adults with severe to critical illness, or severe immunosuppression, can still be contagious for up to 20 days after symptoms start.
The good news is that evidence suggests people who are fully vaccinated and contract Covid can have comparable amounts of virus in their body as someone who is unvaccinated, but they were less infectious overall.
How long do I need to self isolate?
In England and Northern Ireland, it is not a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for Covid.
However, it is strongly advised that people with coronavirus stay at home for at least five days and do not go into work, although this will not be enforced by law.
It is also no longer a requirement for people to take daily Covid tests if they have been in close contact with someone with the virus, regardless of their vaccination status.
In Scotland and Wales, people are still legally obligated to self-isolate after testing positive for Covid.
In Wales, the isolation period is five full days, providing two consecutive lateral flow test results are produced 24 hours apart.
If you get a positive result on day five, you must then get a negative test on day six and day seven before leaving isolation. This process must continue until you get two negative results in a row up to the end of day 10.
You cannot leave quarantine earlier than the full 10 day period if you do not get two consecutive negative tests, regardless of your vaccination status.
These rules are expected to remain in place until the end of March.
Anyone who tests positive for coronaviIn England, Wales and Northern Ireland, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 can leave self-isolation after five full days, on the
In Scotland, rules require people to stay at home for at least seven days, regardless of their vaccination status.
Isolation can end if two negative lateral flow tests are produced 24 hours apart, with the first taken no earlier than day six.
If you get a second negative result on day seven, and do not have a temperature, you can come out of isolation. If the day six test comes back positive, you must take further tests on subsequent days until you get two negative results 24 hours apart.
After leaving isolation, it is “strongly advised” that you limit close contact with people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, and continue to work from home where possible to minimise the risk of passing the virus on to those at higher risk from Covid.
Confirmatory PCR tests for asymptomatic people who test positive on a lateral flow device are no longer needed.
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