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New public health advice for people with COVID-19 and their contacts

The working safely during COVID-19 guidelines have been updated to reflect the fact that, in England, people with COVID-19 don't have a legal duty to self-isolate under any circumstances. Anyone with symptoms, who tests positive or lives in the same household with someone with the disease is now directed to follow guidance published by the UK Health and Security Agency on 24 February. So what's the advice?

Get tested if you have symptoms

Despite many people with COVID-19 displaying cold-like symptoms, the guidance still only lists a new continuous cough, high temperature and loss of or a change to someone's normal sense of taste and smell as the main symptoms. It recommends that anyone with these should get tested, stay at home and avoid other people while they are waiting for the results.

It recognises that other, cold-like symptoms are linked to COVID-19 but doesn't specifically recommend that people with these should get tested as they 'may have another cause' [surely a good reason to suggest testing to rule COVID-19 in or out?]. 

Self-isolate if you have COVID-19

The guidance restates that the best way to avoid spreading the disease it to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for up to 10 days. Current public health advice is that many people are no longer infectious after five days and can test on days five and six and return to normal activities if these are negative. We explained how this worked here

The guidance also states that children and young people with COVID-19 shouldn't attend nursery/school or college when they are infectious which means that parents who can't work from home may not be able to come into work either. 

There's also advice for those people who have to leave their homes whilst they are infectious.

What about if you're a close contact of someone with the virus?

The differences between how people should behave if they are vaccinated and unvaccinated have gone and no-one is under a legal obligation to self-isolate if they've been in close contact with someone with the virus.

The guidance now hones in on risk: people who live in the same household as someone with COVID-19 are at the highest risk of becoming infected because they are most likely to have prolonged close contact. That's also true of people who stay overnight in the same household as someone with the virus. 

They are advised to:

  • work from home if they can
  • avoid contact with anyone who is at highest risk of becoming severely unwell if they are infected (particularly if they have a weakened immune system)
  • limit close contact with people outside their household (especially in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces
  • wear a well-fitted face covering or surgical face mask in crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces when in close contact with others; and
  • get tested if they develop symptoms

It recommends individuals follow these steps for ten days.

Anyone who doesn't live with someone with the virus is advised to follow updated guidance on how to stay safe and help prevent the spread of COVID-19 which focusses on vaccination, ventilation and good hygiene. 

What should employers do?

As a minimum, employers should continue to follow all relevant guidance for the time being. We set out answers to FAQ's about the ending of COVID-19 rules for employers here and there's a bespoke version for schools and colleges available here

The government has said that it will publish new advice on or before 1 April. The Prime Minister has indicated that from this date, people should exercise "personal responsibility" just as they do if they have the flu or a cold to avoid spreading it to others. If that is the direction of travel, public health guidance may change. 

Our Coronavirus updates

We're working hard to keep you up to date with legal developments around Coronavirus and you'll find lots of helpful articles and advice on our portal