What’s the latest advice from the NHS on COVID-19?

COVID-19 is still circulating in our communities, so it’s still important to take steps to protect yourself, to know the symptoms to look out for, what to do if you get unwell, and the services available if you have longer term symptoms.

It’s a good idea to take a look at all the latest information on COVID-19 on the NHS website, but here’s an overview on some of the key advice:

Protecting yourself

It’s still best to take steps to help avoid catching it if you can. COVID-19 spreads very easily through close contact with people who have the virus. When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release small droplets containing the virus. You can catch it by breathing in these droplets or touching surfaces covered in them, and you’re more likely to catch it indoors and in crowded places.

You can still catch or spread COVID-19 if you don’t have symptoms, are fully vaccinated, or have had the virus before. Many people will no longer be infectious to others after 5 days, but you can be infectious for up to 10 days.

The best way to protect yourself is with a vaccine, and over the past few months the NHS offered a widely publicised seasonal vaccine programme to those most vulnerable to the virus, with bookable slots and vaccine pop ups available over the county. COVID vaccinations ended on 31 January for this winter. After 31 January, in most cases, you’ll have to wait until a future seasonal campaign. If you develop a new health condition or start treatment that severely weakens your immune system, you may be able to get vaccinated sooner, but only if your clinician advises it.

Flu vaccinations will continue to be available until March. If you are eligible for a flu jab, either book an appointment with your GP practice or visit a pharmacy that offers the flu vaccine as soon as possible to protect yourself this winter: Find a pharmacy that offers the NHS flu vaccine.

It’s also very important to:

  • wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day, especially after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose, and before you eat or handle food
  • cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and encourage children to do this
  • regularly clean surfaces you touch often (such as door handles and remote controls) and in shared spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms
  • think about wearing a face covering that fits snugly against your face and has more than 1 layer if you’re in close contact with other people, or in crowded places
  • avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth if your hands aren’t clean.

If you’re at increased risk of getting ill from COVID-19,  you might want to take extra steps to reduce your chance of catching it, and try to avoid contact with people who have symptoms until they feel better, or until 10 days after they tested positive.

Symptoms of COVID-19

Symptoms of COVID can be very similar to other illnesses like colds and flu, so these illnesses can be hard to tell apart. You might experience things like:

  • a high temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
  • a new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
  • shortness of breath
  • feeling tired or exhausted
  • an aching body
  • a headache
  • a sore throat
  • a blocked or runny nose
  • loss of appetite
  • diarrhoea
  • feeling sick or being sick

Most people with COVID-19 will have mild symptoms and feel better within a few weeks. You may be able to look after yourself at home while you recover. Try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people if you or your child have symptoms and either have a high temperature, or don’t feel well enough to go to work, school, childcare, or do your normal activities.

You can get advice on the NHS website on treating a high temperature, cough, and what to do if you’re feeling breathless: How to look after yourself at home if you have COVID-19.

Make sure you know when to seek urgent medical help if you are worried about your or a child’s symptoms. For example if symptoms are getting worse, you or they have signs of serious illness, or you are at higher risk from COVID-19.

Read more about COVID symptoms and what to do.

COVID testing 

You’re no longer required to do a COVID-19 rapid lateral flow test if you have symptoms, but if you or your child have tested positive for COVID-19:

  • try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 3 days after the day the test was taken if you or your child are under 18 years old – children and young people tend to be infectious to other people for less time than adults
  • try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for 5 days after the day you took your test if you are 18 years old or over
  • avoid meeting people who are more likely to get seriously ill from viruses, such as people with a weakened immune system, for 10 days after the day you took your test.

You can buy rapid lateral flow tests from some pharmacies and retailers, in person or online. You may still be able to get free COVID-19 rapid lateral flow tests from the NHS if you have a health condition which means you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatment or work in healthcare settings or in a hospice.

Treatments for COVID-19 

The NHS offers treatment to people with COVID-19 who are at the highest risk of becoming seriously ill. You’re eligible for COVID-19 treatments if all of the following apply:

  • you’re aged 12 or over
  • you’re at highest risk of getting seriously ill from COVID-19
  • you have symptoms of COVID-19
  • you’ve tested positive for COVID-19

If you’re eligible for COVID-19 treatments and you test positive, you can make an online self-referral.  If you can’t access the online referral, you can still contact your GP practice or NHS111 so they can consider referring you for an assessment for treatment.

Find out more about who is at highest risk, what the treatments are and how to access referral: COVID-19 treatments for patients at highest risk.

Recovery and further support

Most people feel better within a few days or weeks of their first COVID-19 symptoms and make a full recovery within 12 weeks. For some people, it can be a more serious illness and their symptoms can last longer. Help is available for anyone who has had COVID symptoms for longer than 4 weeks. Long COVID can be a cluster of symptoms, often overlapping, which may change over time and can affect any system within the body.

If you’ve had COVID symptoms for longer than 4 weeks and it’s affecting you daily life, contact your GP practice. A healthcare professional can talk to you about the care and support you might need and give you advice on next steps. Read more about the symptoms of long COVID and the support service: Long COVID Support Service.

Visit the NHS website for more detail and all the latest advice on COVID-19: COVID-19 – NHS.