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The Covid-19 self isolation rules in England after a positive lateral flow test and how you can end isolation early

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RECORD numbers of positive Covid cases are being recorded each day as the highly transmissible Omicron variant sweeps across the country.

And with households now returning to work and school after the Christmas break, the first signs of infection are often appearing as two lines on a rapid lateral flow test taken at home.

A rapid test will give you a result in 15 minutes
A rapid test will give you a result in 15 minutes

Despite ongoing shortages of lateral flow kits, people are still being encouraged to test themselves frequently, particularly before meeting up with people or going to crowded places – while self-isolation rules have also been changed amid concerns that public services, including the NHS, will soon struggle in the face of widespread staff shortages.

But if you – or a member of your household – tests positive at home for Covid-19, what should you do next and what does it mean for those you live with?

Do I still need a PCR test if I've got a positive lateral flow?

The answer to this is simply, yes – until 11th January when this will not apply to those who test positive but don't have symptoms. If you did a lateral test at home and received even the faintest of lines, government and NHS advice is to self-isolate straight away and book yourself a PCR test immediately to confirm the result. However, from next Tuesday those who test positive and don't have symptoms should still self-isolate and report the result on gov.uk, but will not be required to take a follow-up PCR test.

PCR swabs are taken and sent off for analysis
PCR swabs are taken and sent off for analysis

A PCR test is sent to a lab to be looked at, making it both a more reliable and sensitive result, alongside automatically logging your case should it be positive, with the NHS Test and Trace service.

If your lateral flow is negative – but you are suffering from coronavirus symptoms including a high temperature or cough – you should also self-isolate and book a PCR test.

You can take a PCR either at a walk-in or drive-through test centre, alternatively kits can be posted to you at home.

But you must not go to work, school, public areas, or use public transport or a taxi service while you are self-isolating and waiting for your test or its result.

People you've been in contact with

Those with positive Covid-19 tests are advised to tell those they live with – or who they have seen in the last 48 hours – that they have the virus. Details of close contacts may also be gathered by Test and Trace staff.

People who are fully vaccinated, children under the age of 18 and 6 months, or those unable to get vaccinated for medical reasons, will not any longer need to self-isolate automatically if they've been in contact with a positive case but may be advised to get a PCR test if they are contacted by Test and Trace.

Instead, identified close contacts are now required to do a daily rapid lateral flow test for seven days – and register the result on the government website – to ensure they know they are remaining clear of the virus.

The NHS advises close contacts of a positive case to also consider limiting contact with people who are at a higher risk of complications from Covid-19 until they can be sure they've not also developed the virus.

People who are not fully vaccinated, and who live with someone who has tested positive for Covid-19, must remain at home also and self-isolate for 10 days.

Children can continue to attend class despite a positive test in their household
Children can continue to attend class despite a positive test in their household

Can my child go to school if I'm positive?

If a parent or sibling, or any other member of a household, tests positive for coronavirus children are still permitted to go to school or college providing that they report negative lateral flow tests each day for seven days.

This applies to children aged five and above.

However, strict self-isolation rules for those positive for the virus remain in place – so this means if a parent does have Covid they must not leave the house to take their child to school even if they don't need to get out of the car during the drop-off.

But if alternative transport arrangements can be made, or the child is able to take themselves to school or college, they are allowed to go to lessons even if there are positive cases within their home.

The number of people self isolating is hitting record highs
The number of people self isolating is hitting record highs

I'm positive, how long do I have to self-isolate for?

If you are notified of a positive test result you must complete a period of self-isolation.

Your isolation period starts immediately from when your symptoms started, or, if you do not have any symptoms, from when your positive LFD or PCR test was taken, whichever test was taken first.

The isolation period includes the day your symptoms started (or the day your test was taken if you do not have symptoms), and the next 10 full days.

However, in December self-isolation rules were modified, to enable those who test negative on a lateral flow test towards the end of their isolation period to end their stint at home a little earlier.

If you have Covid and take a lateral flow test from six days after the day your symptoms started, and another test the following day at least 24 hours later, and both of these test results are negative and you no longer have a high temperature you may end your self-isolation after the second reported negative test result.

Those continuing to test positive on a lateral flow after a full 10 days of isolating can return to their normal routine providing that symptoms have gone or the only ones left are a cough or loss of taste or smell, which can both last for several weeks. If after 10 days of self isolation you still have a high temperature, or still remain unwell, the advice is to stay at home and seek medical advice.

What about a five-day isolation period?

Despite moves by some countries in recent days to slash Covid isolation periods for vaccinated adults to just five days, there are no plans to do that in the UK, says the government.

America and Greece are among those to have made big changes to isolation periods for those testing positive for Covid-19 while just two days ago, France became the latest country to cut its isolation period for those who can register a negative test after five days at home.

But despite rising numbers of staff absences across the NHS and fears that schools may struggle to stay open if staff sickness becomes an issue, the vaccines minister says the current policy remains the correct one.

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