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Information about coronavirus (COVID-19)

From the 14 September, there have been some changes to the guidance and the steps we all need to follow to stay safe.

When spending time with people outside of your household or support bubble, you can meet in a group of up to six. This applies to gatherings which take place inside and outside. Children are counted in this group of six. This means, for example, that a couple with three children would be allowed to meet up with one person outside of their household or support bubble, as any more would take them over the maximum six.

There are some exceptions to this rule, and you can spend time in groups of more than 6 for the following reasons:

  • Where everyone in the group lives together or is in the same support bubble
  • to provide care or emergency assistance
  • for work or voluntary reasons
  • for education or training
  • weddings, civil partnerships, or other religious ceremonies such as christenings or bar mitzvahs. Though you can only have receptions of up to 30 people for weddings and civil partnerships. 
  • funerals - up to 30 people can attend
  • to fulfil legal duties, such as attending court or jury service
  • organised indoor and outdoor sports, physical activities, and exercise classes
  • protests and political activities. 

Single-adult households in England can still join up with one other household to create a support bubble, even if this means there are more than six people. This applies to both people living alone and single parents with children under the age of 18 at home. People who are clinically extremely vulnerable can also form a support bubble. Being in a support bubble with another household means that you can spend time with each other in inside spaces, without needing to keep your distance. You can stay at each other’s houses overnight and travel in cars together. Find out more by visiting our page on support bubbles.

You should still follow social distancing guidance 

You should try to stay 2 metres from others (excluding members of your household or support bubble) but, where this is not possible, you can follow the 1-metre rule: this means you should stay at least 1 metre from others while taking extra precautions, such as wearing a face covering. You should continue to wash your hands with soap and water frequently and dry them thoroughly.   

More information about changes can be found on the Government website

Due to an increase in the number of coronavirus cases in certain areas, the Government have announced there may some changes in guidance. This guidance may not apply to everyone, you should check local information for more details.

Everyone must comply

Everyone in the UK must comply with these new measures. The relevant authorities, including the police, have been given powers to enforce them – including through fines and dispersing gatherings.

From 14 September social gatherings of more than 6 people will be illegal, the police have new powers to enforce this. They'll be able to issue fines of £100, which will double with each offence up to a maximum of £3,200. Regulations are also being brought in that will require businesses to make sure no such gatherings take place on their premises.  

Anyone organising a large gathering of more than 30 people could face a £10,000 fine. 

Those at a higher risk

People aged 70 and over, people living with long term conditions, and those considered clinically extremely vulnerable who were previously advised to shield are at an increased risk of severe illness if they become infected with the coronavirus.  

While the guidance for these groups of people is the same, people who are more vulnerable may wish to take extra precautions.

'Extremely Clinically Vulnerable'

From 1 August, the advice to shield will be paused and those considered clinically extremely vulnerable will be advised to adopt strict social distancing measures instead. This means:

  • You will be able to go out to shops and see more people but should take care to minimise contact with others outside your household or support bubble.
  • You will also be able to go to work if you cannot work from home.
  • Some support measures such as the food and medicine boxes will be stopped, but there will still be support available from the NHS First Responder Scheme and organisations including Age UK. People who have been shielding will also be able to retain their online priority delivery slots.

The shielding list will be maintained and if the guidance changes either at a local level or across the country you will be contacted with more information.

If you need more information or are unsure if you should be shielding you can check the Government guidance and we've answered some of the questions we're being asked the most here

More information 

You need to self-isolate and not leave the house if you or anyone you live with or share a support bubble with have symptoms of coronavirus.  

There's more information about the symptoms of coronavirus below. You might like to read about staying safe and well at home too. 

What is coronavirus?

Novel Coronavirus, formally called COVID-19, is part of a family of viruses that include the common cold and respiratory illnesses such as SARS. 

It affects your lungs and airways. For many people, it causes mild symptoms while for others it can be much more serious and require hospital treatment.

Cases of coronavirus first emerged in Wuhan City in China in December last year and have quickly spread. 

How does coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is very infectious, which means it spreads very easily.

It spreads in much the same way as the common cold or flu - through infected respiratory droplets like coughs and sneezes – and passes from person to person. This can happen when: 

  • an infectious person gets the virus on their hands (for example by coughing in their hand) and then touches a commonly used surface, such as a door handle, which someone else then touches. 
  • someone gets close to (less than 1-2 metres) someone who is infectious.

This is why we are being advised to avoid close contact with others, wash our hands thoroughly and frequently, and wipe down surfaces with disinfectant.

The average ‘incubation period’ – the time between coming into contact with the virus and experiencing symptoms – is 5 days, but it could be anything between 1 and 14 days. This is why the Government is asking everyone who has come into contact with the virus to self-isolate.

People are most likely to spread the virus to other people when they are experiencing symptoms, which is why it is important to follow guidance on staying at home if you have symptoms, have tested positive for coronavirus or have been advised by the test and trace service to self-isolate.

However, don’t forget people can be infectious before they know they are ill.

What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

The most common symptoms include:

  • a persistent, dry cough - where you have been coughing a lot for more than an hour or have had 3 or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • a high temperature, where you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • a loss or changed sense of taste or smell

Other symptoms people are reporting include:

  • shortness of breath
  • a sore throat
  • a blocked/runny nose
  • stomach discomfort and diarrhoea.

What should I do if I have symptoms of coronavirus?

If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, you must self-isolate and order a test as soon as possible by visiting www.nhs.uk/coronavirus or calling 119. From 30 July the length of time you should self-isolate for if you receive a positive test or develop symptoms has increased to 10 days.

You will need to self-isolate until your test results come back, as should all others in your household or support bubble. This means you should not leave the house, including for work, exercise or to collect essentials, such as food or medicine.

If you have been identified as someone who is clinically extremely  vulnerable and develop symptoms you should seek clinical advice using the  NHS 111 online  coronavirus service or call NHS 111. Do this as soon as you get symptoms.

If you have a positive coronavirus test

If you test positive for coronavirus, you will need to self-isolate for 10 days from the point at which you first developed symptoms. If after 10 days you still have symptoms, other than a cough or loss of taste and smell, you should continue to self-isolate. You do not need to continue to self-isolate if, after 10 days, you still have a cough or loss of taste and smell as these can last for several weeks after the infection has passed.

If you live with other people, all other household members and anyone in your support bubble must stay at home for 14 days from when you started having symptoms, unless they also develop symptoms of coronavirus. If they develop symptoms of coronavirus, then they should also book a test right away. If the results come back positive then they should isolate for 10 days from the start of their symptoms. After 10 days they will be able to return to normal, so long as they are feeling better. If their results come back negative then they must continue the isolation of 14 days with the rest of the household.

People who have tested positive will be contacted by NHS test and trace service by text message, email or phone call and asked to share details of your recent interactions, including people you have recently had direct contact with. You can find out more about how the track and trace service works here.

If your test is negative

If your test comes back negative then you are at low-risk of having coronavirus. Other members of your household or support bubble will no longer need to self-isolate and if you feel well you can also stop self-isolating straight away. However, if you still feel unwell it is better to stay inside as you may have another virus, such as a cold or the flu, so you should try not to be around other people.

After people have completed their period of self-isolation, they should continue to follow Government advice on social distancing. This means they should only leave the house for exceptional circumstances.

You should also get in touch with the NHS for medical help if:

  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home
  • you feel breathless and it's getting worse

You should do this by calling 111 or using the NHS online coronavirus service.  Do not go to your doctor's surgery or to hospital.

What should I do if I'm unwell?

You should also get in touch with the NHS for medical help if:

  • your symptoms are getting worse
  • you feel you can’t cope with your symptoms at home
  • you feel breathless and it's getting worse.

You should do this by calling 111 or using the NHS online coronavirus serviceDo not go to your doctor’s surgery or to hospital.

It is also important that you stay at home and for at least 10 days if you have a new, continuous cough or high temperature, even if you're feeling OK.

If after 10 days you still have a high temperature, you should stay inside until it returns to normal.

If you live with other people and you are the first person to develop symptoms, you should stay inside for 10 days. If someone else in your household or support bubble has developed symptoms you should stay inside for 14 days, or until you develop symptoms yourself. If you do develop symptoms then you should stay at home for 10 days, even if that means you end up staying inside for longer than the 14 days.

There's advice from the Government on how to manage if you're staying at home.

How do I get a test for coronavirus?

Everyone over the age of 5 who develops symptoms of coronavirus is now able to access a test. 

Some people can get tested even if they don’t have symptoms of coronavirus. These are:

  • Social care staff.
  • Care home residents and people being discharged from hospital into care homes.
  • People who have been told to take a test before going into a hospital, for example for surgery.
  • People who are asked by their local council to take a test. 

You should book a test as soon as you develop symptoms as it needs to happen within the first 5 days and is most effective in the first three daysYou can book a test through the  Government online portal. For those unable to access the internet call 119.

There are different ways to get a test. You can

  • Be tested at a drive-through testing site in England. To be tested in this way you will need to be able to drive by car to the appointment.
  • Visit a walk-in testing centre
  • Order a home testing kit, which will be delivered to your door so you don’t need to leave your house. If you get a home testing kit you will need to do the test and return the kit within 48 hours.

For postal tests, the test and trace service will ask if they can run a check to verify your address. The check is not the same as a credit check and will not affect your credit score. If you decline you may be told you are unable to receive a test by post, and to apply for a drive-in or walk-in test instead. Some people may not pass these checks for various reasons, and again may be advised to apply for a drive-in test instead. If you have any concerns you can call 119 for support.

The current test available looks for the presence of coronavirus and is taken in two samples – one from the back of your throat and one from inside your nose. At the drive through testing sites, you will remain in your car while a doctor or nurses takes this from you.  If you are doing the test yourself at home, take a look at this video to see how to take the swab.

You will be notified of the test results a few days later.

You are able to apply for a test of behalf of someone else, as long as they are over 13 and you have their permission to do so.

Why is coronavirus such a big problem?

Coronavirus has been declared a ‘pandemic’ by the World Health Organisation. This means there is significant and ongoing spread of the disease across lots of countries.

The Government has called coronavirus a major public health emergency and the most ‘significant threat this country has faced for decades’.

So why is coronavirus such a significant problem? There are a few very simple reasons:

  1. The virus spreads very easily from person to person – on average people infect between 2 and 3 other people – so, without action, many more people will get infected.
  2. A large number of people experience few or mild symptoms. This means they may keep doing what they usually do and spread the virus without realising.
  3. Although most people experience mild to moderate symptoms, a significant number (around 1 in 5) will need hospital care and some (around 1 in 20) will need critical care. If the virus spreads widely, the NHS will not have enough equipment, doctors or nurses to help everyone who needs it.
  4. Although most people will experience a mild illness and recover quickly, the  fatality rate for coronavirus is much higher than seasonal flu, particularly among people at highest risk.

Age UK's Libby Webb has explained more about why the Government is taking the actions it's taking to combat coronavirus.  

What are the risks of catching coronavirus?

Anyone can catch coronavirus. It spreads easily from person to person and, if we did nothing, would continue to do so until most people had been infected.

Most people (around 4 out of 5) who get coronavirus will experience mild to moderate symptoms. This might feel like anything from a run of the mill common cold to the flu. For most people this will mean they need to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and take normal over-the-counter remedies, such as paracetamol.

Unfortunately, around 1 in 5 people who get coronavirus will become severely unwell and need hospital treatment.

Around 1 in 20 people will need critical (intensive) care in hospital. 

Are some people more at risk from coronavirus?

Although most people of any age will only experience mild or moderate symptoms, we do know that some people are much more likely than others to become seriously unwell. This includes:

  • people aged over the 70, even if you're otherwise fit and well
  • people of any age living with long-term health conditions which mean you'd  normally be offered the flu jab

There are also some conditions that put people at particularly high risk. The following people may be affected and should receive a letter from the NHS advising them what to do:

  • People who've received solid organ transplants.
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies which significantly increase the risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy.
  • People undergoing radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors.
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
  • People with kidney disease.

Pregnant women have also been advised to be extra careful.  

How can I reduce my risk of catching or spreading coronavirus?

There are precautions which we all need to take to keep ourselves and others safe. When you leave your house, try to stay at least 2 metres away from people outside of your household or support bubble. Where this isn't possible, you should follow the 1-metre rule: this means you should stay at least 1 metre from others and take extra precautions, such as wearing a face covering.

When you're with people you don't live with, you should avoid any physical contact, being close or face-to-face, or singing and shouting close to them. Try to avoid visting crowded places where possible, and avoid touching things you don't need to when out and about. 

Make sure you wash your hands, frequently and thoroughly, with soap and hot water, particularly when you have been outside. Carry hand sanitiser with you when you're out and about. 

If you do meet with people you don't live with, make sure that the space is well-ventilated by opening windows.

Some people may also want to take extra precautions. You might want to limit the number of people you meet up with, as the more people you spend time with, the higher the risk of coronavirus spreading. You might also want to avoid visiting places which are likely to be busy or where it will be harder to keep your distance from others. The risk of transmission is lower outside, so you may prefer to continue meeting in places such as parks or private gardens.

How often should I wash my hands?

You should wash your hands frequently:

  • for at least 20 seconds or for two rounds of the song ‘Happy Birthday’
  • when you get home after going out
  • before eating or handling food
  • after sneezing or blowing your nose.

Try to avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. You should also make sure you catch coughs or sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve – not your hands – and put used tissues in the bin.

Should I wear a face covering?

It's mandatory to wear a face covering in a number of enclosed public spaces, including: 

  • hospitals and GP surgeries
  • transport hubs, such as train stations and airports, and when using any form of public transport 
  • shops, supermarkets, and shopping centres 
  • banks, building societies and post offices 
  • visitor attractions and entertainment venues, such as museums, theatres, cinemas, and cultural sites
  • places of worship
  • public areas of hotels and hostels
  • cafes and restaurants which do not have table service and require customers to go to a till to purchase food and drink. Once food has been purchased, customers are able to take off their face covering to eat the food if there is a sitting area available for this. 

For people who may find it difficult to wear a face covering – perhaps because of a disability, or difficulty breathing – these rules do not apply, and you do not have to cover your face.

It's not mandatory to wear a face covering in other settings outside the house, but it's advised by the Government when it's not possible to stay at least 2 metres away from people you don't live with.

We have more information on what a face covering is, when to wear them, who may be considered exempt here.

I have existing medical needs and upcoming appointments. What should I do?

You may feel like you should avoid getting help for medical conditions because you’re worried about putting the NHS under additional pressure. But your health needs are just as important as before and you should seek care and treatment that you need.

You can find out more about accessing health services here

If you need urgent medical help, whether or not you have coronavirus symptoms, you should contact 111 or call 999 in an emergency.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, do not visit your GP surgery or hospital. Find out what to do here

If you have health conditions that make you clinically extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and have been advised to shield, then you should contact your GP or specialist for advice on how to continue receiving your care and treatment.

Can everyone access free testing and treatment for coronavirus?

Some people usually have to pay for certain treatments provided by the NHS, but testing and treatment for coronavirus is exempt from charging. 

Migrants who are classed as ‘overseas visitors’, undocumented migrants and those with a precarious immigration status, will not be charged for the diagnosis or treatment of coronavirus (COVID-19).  This is regardless of whether you test positively or negatively for the coronavirus.  

The Government has also stated that NHS trusts have been advised that no immigration checks are required for overseas visitors that are known to be only undergoing testing or treatment for COVID-19.

Information in Community Languages

You can find information on the charging exemption translated into community languages at the top of this page.  

Doctors of the World have translated wider guidance which can be found here.

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Last updated: Sep 22 2020

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