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When to self-isolate and what to do

Self-isolation is essential to stop the spread of coronavirus. Self-isolating means staying at home. You should not go to work, school, college or university, or go to shops or other public places. You must not use public transport or taxis, or even go for a walk.

It is a legal requirement to self-isolate when you are told to do so. Self-isolation stops you from passing on the virus to your loved ones, the people you work with, your neighbours and your community.

When and how long to self isolate

If you have symptoms

Self-isolate straight away and get a PCR test (a test that is sent to the lab) on GOV.UK as soon as possible if you have any of these three symptoms of COVID-19, even if they are mild:

  • a high temperature
  • a new, continuous cough
  • a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste.

Day zero is the day you get symptoms. The next day is day 1 of isolation.

If your PCR test result is positive you must continue to isolate. However, you can do rapid lateral flow tests on days 5 and 6 – if both are negative you can stop isolating immediately, as long as you don't have a high temperature. If you are still testing positive or have a temperature you must isolate until day 11.

If your lateral flow test is positive

If you have no symptoms but you test positive on a lateral flow test, you must self-isolate immediately even though you feel well, but you do not have to book a PCR test to confirm the result. You should still book a PCR test if you have symptoms, or if you are advised to do so for clinical reasons, and possibly if you need to claim the Test and Trace support payment while you self-isolate.

Day zero is the day you test positive. The next day is day 1 of isolation. You can take a rapid test on days 5 and 6 and provided those are negative, stop isolating if you have no symptoms. If you are still testing positive or have a temperature you must isolate until day 11.

If you develop symptoms while you are isolating after a positive lateral flow test, you don't need to take a PCR test. Continue with your original isolation period.

Close contacts

If you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive, you do not have to isolate if you are fully vaccinated, under 18, part of a Covid vaccine trial or cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. Instead you should take a daily rapid test for 7 days. If you're not vaccinated you must isolate for 10 days.

What should I do when I am self-isolating?

You must not leave your home if you're self-isolating except in an emergency. You must not go to work, school or shops. Order food and medicine online or by phone, or ask someone to bring it to your home. Do not have visitors in your home, including friends and family – except for people providing essential care. Do not go out to exercise – exercise at home or in your garden, if you have one.

Try to isolate from people that you live with; this is especially important in houses where lots of people live together.

In order to further prevent the spread of the virus, you should make sure your house is thoroughly and regularly cleaned and wash towels and clothes regularly.

There is lots of support available if you need to self-isolate. You can get priority delivery slots for food shopping, with some shops able to deliver within a few hours.

If you’re on a low income and cannot work while self-isolating (or while caring for a child who has to self-isolate), you may be able to get a government payment of £500. Find out more and apply online. If you are unable to work from home speak to your employer about sick pay; if you cannot get sick pay from your employer, you might be able to get Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) or another type of financial support. Find out more at GOV.UK - sick pay.

If you feel lonely or sad at home, some organisations offer a friendly chat by phone.

NHS Volunteer Responders can help collecting shopping, medicine or other essential supplies, or just for someone to talk to. Call them free on 0808 1963646.

If you cannot get help from relatives, friends, neighbours or these voluntary groups, please let us know by submitting a request for support form.

Any of us could be asked to self-isolate at any time. It’s good to prepare for this in advance. If you can, stock up on a few long-life essentials. If you’ve never tried online shopping before, give it a go before you need to. Ask friends and neighbours if they would be able to fetch food or urgent medication if you ever did need to isolate. Keep a note of their phone numbers so that you can contact them easily.

Get the latest government guidelines when returning to England from abroad: