The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 is now declining across the UK, with the Omicron wave past its peak.
However, figures are still higher than at most other points during the pandemic, meaning tens of thousands of people are currently self-isolating at home.
Here’s everything you need to know about the isolation rules, including when isolation officially starts.
When do I need to self-isolate?
You should self-isolate immediately if you have any symptoms of Covid-19, and order a PCR test through the Government website.
The NHS says the main symptoms of Covid are:
- A high temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
However, people are reporting other symptoms from the Omicron variant. These include:
- Runny nose
- Scratchy throat
- Body aches
- Night sweats
- Back pain
If you have symptoms you should take a lateral flow test and order a confirmatory PCR.
You should isolate immediately if you test positive, either on a lateral flow or PCR, even if you do not have symptoms.
However, if you do not have symptoms and test positive on a lateral flow, you should no longer order a PCR.
If you have been in contact with someone with Covid-19 you should isolate if you are not fully vaccinated.
If you have received your second dose of the vaccine at least 14 days ago you do not need to isolate.
However, you should take a lateral flow test daily for seven days, or until 10 days since your last contact with the person who tested positive.
When you are self-isolating you should not leave your home unless there is an emergency.
When is day one of isolation?
You should self-isolate immediately if you test positive for Covid-19 or start experiencing symptoms.
However, the official “day one” of isolation refers to the first full day.
When can I stop isolating?
The isolation rules are different depending on your vaccination status.
If you are fully vaccinated:
The minimum self-isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 has been cut from seven full days to five for fully-vaccinated people, starting from Monday 17 January.
This change is currently only taking effect in England, leaving it up to the devolved administrations to decide whether they follow suit.
The day your symptoms start, or the day you test positive if you do not have symptoms, counts as day zero.
You may leave self-isolation on day six if you test negative on a lateral flow on day five and day six, at least 24 hours apart, as long as you do not have a high temperature.
If one of these tests returns positive, you must wait until receiving two consecutive days of negative tests to leave isolation, or wait the full 10 days.
Previously, people who did not have symptoms but tested positive on a lateral flow had to order a PCR. They then had to restart their isolation period from they day they took the PCR if the result returned positive.
However, this requirement has been scrapped for now. Asymptomatic people should no longer order a PCR, and instead isolate for 5-10 days from the day of the positive lateral flow result.
If you are not fully vaccinated:
People who have not had two doses of the vaccine will still have to isolate for 10 days if they test positive, or if they are a close contact with someone who has the virus.
If you test positive, your self-isolation period includes the day your symptoms started (or the day you had the test, if you did not have symptoms) and the next 10 full days.
If someone you live with tests positive, you should self-isolate for 10 days from the day of the test or the day they start experiencing symptoms, whichever is first.
NHS Test and Trace may contact you telling you to isolate as a close contact, in which case it will tell you how long you need to isolate for.
What if I’m still testing positive after 10 days?
You may leave self-isolation after your 10th full day of self-isolation even if you are still testing positive.
The only exception to this is if you still have a high temperature, or are still feeling unwell.
If you only have a cough or your sense of smell or taste remains affected, you can leave isolation.
The Government guidance states: “You do not need to take any more LFD (lateral flow device) tests after the 10th day of your self-isolation period and you may stop self-isolating after this day.
“This is because you are unlikely to be infectious after the 10th day of your self-isolation period.
“Even if you have a positive LFD test result on the 10th day of your self-isolation period you do not need to take any more LFD tests after this day and you do not need a follow-up PCR test.
“If you are concerned you may choose to limit close contact with other people, especially those who are at higher risk of severe illness until 14 days after the start of your self-isolation period.”
For what reasons can I leave the house when isolating?
There are certain reasons for which you can leave the house when isolating.
You can temporarily leave self-isolation to:
- Post a PCR test or antibody test at a Royal Mail priority postbox
- Get food or medicine if you cannot order it online or by phone, or you cannot ask someone to bring it to your home
- Get urgent health services for you, your family and pets
- Avoid harm, for example, if there is a fire or you are at risk of domestic abuse
- Access services as a victim of crime, for example, if there has been a burglary
- Help someone who is pregnant to go to a medical appointment, or to give birth
- Go to the funeral of a close family member or friend
- Meet legal duties such as going to court, taking part in court proceedings, or following bail conditions
- Take part in NHS Covid-19 research, but only if you’re asked to leave self-isolation
You should not leave the house to exercise. This includes going for a walk and walking your dog. You may exercise in your own private garden if you have one.
Visitors should not come to your home. Only people providing essential care should enter.
When will self-isolation end?
The Prime Minister has said the legal requirement for people with Covid-19 to self-isolate will finish by 24 March at the latest, and possibly earlier.
Mr Johnson told MPs on Wednesday: “As we return to Plan A, the House will know that some measures still remain, including those on self-isolation.
‘”n particular, it is still a legal requirement for those who have tested positive for Covid to self-isolate.
“On Monday we reduced the isolation period to five full days with two negative tests, and there will soon come a time when we can remove the legal requirement to self-isolate altogether, just as we don’t place legal obligations on people to isolate if they have flu.
“As Covid becomes endemic, we will need to replace legal requirements with advice and guidance, urging people with the virus to be careful and considerate of others.
“The self-isolation regulations expire on 24 March, at which point I very much expect not to renew them. Indeed, were the data to allow, I’d like to seek a vote in this House to bring that date forward.”