The BA.2 sub-version of Omicron continues to be the cause of the high number of COVID cases in the UK.
This comes at a time when restrictions have ended and the government has done away with the universal provision of free COVID testing.
The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive has also been removed, with Boris Johnson asking people to take personal responsibility.
Here’s what you should do if you catch the virus, and how long you can be contagious.
When are you most contagious with covid?
The World Health Organization (WHO) has stated that for previous forms of COVID-19, such as alpha and delta, symptoms can begin to develop anywhere between two days and two weeks after infection.
However, the incubation period – the time between infection and the appearance of symptoms – is thought to be very short for Omicron and its branches: between three and five days.
Harvard University states: “People are thought to be most contagious early in their illness.
“With Omicron, most transmission occurs one to two days before the onset of symptoms and two to three days after. People without symptoms can also spread the coronavirus to others.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in December: “A recent analysis by the UK Health Protection Agency (UKHSA) suggests that the window between infection and infectivity may be shorter for the Omicron version than for the delta version.”
Data shows that most people are not contagious after seven days of experiencing symptoms or testing positive for the first time, especially when vaccinated, and the vast majority are no longer contagious after 10 days.
For how long can you test positive?
Most people will stop testing positive within 10 days of starting to experience symptoms or receiving their first positive test.
However, it is possible to continue testing positive for weeks or even months after having the virus.
The good news is that even if you are still testing positive after a long period of time, it is very unlikely that you are actually contagious.
Gavi Vaccine Alliance explains: “The time it takes to test negative after contracting COVID-19 depends on the severity of the case, and also on the test.
“PCR tests that hunt for and amplify the viral genetic material (RNA in the case of COVID-19) in our bodies so that we can detect it are extremely sensitive and even detect certain viral fragments. Attendance can also be raised. This is because fragments of viral RNA can remain in our bodies even after the infection is over and the virus has been cleared from our system.
What are the symptoms of covid?
The NHS now lists the following as official COVID symptoms:
- 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)
- new, persistent cough – this means a cough that lasts for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- decrease or change in your sense of smell or taste
- shortness of breath
- feeling tired or exhausted
- aching body
- sore throat
- blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or being sick
For most of the pandemic, only the first three symptoms above were listed by the NHS.
However, it added nine more signs in early April, explaining: “The symptoms are similar to those of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”
What should you do if you have covid?
People in England and Wales are no longer legally required to self-isolate after experiencing symptoms of COVID or testing positive. Scotland and Northern Ireland still have mandatory segregation.
However, the UK government continues to advise people with COVID to stay at home and avoid contact with others.
If you test positive or experience symptoms, the NHS recommends taking the following steps:
- try to work from home if possible – if you are unable to work from home, ask your employer about the options available to you
- Stay at home if possible – this helps reduce the number of people you come in contact with
- Avoid contact with people at higher risk of COVID-19, especially if their immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, even if they have had the vaccine
- Follow advice on how to avoid spreading the virus to people you live with
- Let people who need to come into your home know you’ve tested positive or have symptoms – then they can take steps to protect themselves, such as wearing a well-fitting face wash, as much as you can stay away as much as possible, and wash hands regularly
- Contact your healthcare provider and tell them about your positive test result or symptoms if you are asked to attend a medical or dental appointment in person.
- Ask friends, family, or neighbors to bring you food or other essentials
If a child or person 18 years of age or younger tests positive they should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for three days. It starts from the day they did the test.
Previously, people were advised to leave isolation after a full five days if they test negative for two consecutive days, or after 10 days if they continue to test positive.