1. What has changed
The self-isolation advice for people with coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed. It is now possible to end self-isolation after 5 full days if you have 2 negative LFD tests taken on consecutive days. The first LFD test should not be taken before the fifth day after your symptoms started (or the day your test was taken if you did not have symptoms). The self-isolation period remains 10 full days for those without negative results from 2 LFD tests taken a day apart.
2. Who this guidance is for
This guidance is for:
- people with symptoms that may be caused by COVID-19, including those who are waiting for a COVID-19 test result
- people who have received a positive COVID-19 LFD or PCR test result (whether or not they have symptoms)
- people who currently live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 symptoms, or with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 by LFD or PCR test
In this guidance a household means:
- one person living alone
- a group of people (who may or may not be related) living at the same address and who share cooking facilities, bathrooms or toilets, or living areas – this may include students in boarding schools or halls of residence who share such facilities
- a group of people who share a nomadic way of life for example those who live on Traveller sites, in vehicles or on canal boats
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of any of the following:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia)
For most people, COVID-19 will be a mild illness. However, if you have any of the symptoms listed above, even if your symptoms are mild, stay at home and arrange to have a test. You do not need to take a PCR test if you have already taken an LFD test and the result was positive.
There are several other symptoms linked with COVID-19. These symptoms may have another cause and are not on their own a reason to have a COVID-19 PCR test. If you are concerned about your symptoms, seek medical advice.
If you have received one or more doses of COVID-19 vaccine and have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 or have received a positive LFD or PCR test result, you should still follow this guidance. This is because it is still possible to get COVID-19 and spread it to others, even if you are vaccinated.
4. Tests for COVID-19
There are 2 main types of test currently being used to detect if someone has COVID-19:
- polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests
- lateral flow device (LFD) antigen tests – also known as rapid lateral flow tests
4.1 PCR tests
PCR tests detect the RNA (ribonucleic acid, the genetic material) of a virus. It takes some time to get the results because PCR tests are usually processed in a laboratory.
PCR tests are the best way to diagnose COVID-19 infection in people who have symptoms and who also may require treatment. If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19, you should arrange to have a PCR test.
4.2 LFD tests
LFD tests detect proteins in the coronavirus and work in a similar way to a pregnancy test. They are reliable, simple and quick to use and are very good at identifying people who have high levels of coronavirus and are most likely to pass on infection to others. When rates of infection are high, it is very likely that people with a positive LFD test result have COVID-19.
LFD tests can be taken by people at home (self-reported tests) or under the supervision of a trained operator who processes the test, reads, and reports the result (assisted tests). LFD tests are mainly used in people who do not have symptoms of COVID-19. If you take an LFD test and the result is positive, you should report the result and follow this guidance.
You do not need to take a follow-up PCR test, unless:
- you wish to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment – to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment, you must have tested positive for COVID-19 following a PCR test or an assisted LFD test
- you have received an email or letter from the NHS because of a health condition that means you may be suitable for new COVID-19 treatments – if this applies to you and you develop any COVID-19 symptoms, you should use the PCR test kit that was sent to you in the post for this purpose; if you have not received a PCR test kit you can arrange to have a PCR test
- you are taking LFD tests as part of research or surveillance programmes, and the programme asks you to take a follow-up PCR test
- you have a positive day 2 LFD test result after you arrive in England
If your LFD test result is positive you may go on to develop symptoms in the next few days. If you develop any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 and you are concerned, or your symptoms are worsening, contact 111 or speak to your GP. In an emergency dial 999.