Coronavirus (COVID-19): how to stay safe and help prevent the spread
There are steps everyone can take to help reduce the risk of catching or spreading coronavirus (COVID-19). Think about how you can protect yourself and your household, and make safer choices.
COVID-19 remains a risk
It is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result should stay at home and self-isolate immediately. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should arrange to take a PCR test as soon as possible, even if you’ve had one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
We can all play our part by understanding the situations where risks of COVID-19 infection and transmission are likely to be higher, and taking action to reduce these risks.
Following this guidance will help you to understand situations where there is a greater risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 and the steps that you can take to stay safe and protect others.
Understanding the risks of COVID-19
The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 can be higher in certain places and when doing certain activities. COVID-19 is spread by airborne transmission, close contact via droplets, and via surfaces.
Airborne transmission is a very significant way that the virus circulates. It is possible to be infected by someone you don’t have close contact with, especially if you’re in a crowded and/or poorly ventilated space.
Close contact with an infected person is also a significant way COVID-19 is spread. When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19. The particles can come into contact with the eyes, nose or mouth or can be breathed in by another person. The particles can also land on surfaces and be passed from person to person via touch.
In general, the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is higher in crowded and enclosed spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious and limited fresh air.
In situations where there is a higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19, you should be particularly careful to follow the guidance on keeping yourself and others safe as we return to normality. Every little action helps to keep us all safer.
Keeping yourself and others safe
COVID-19 is still circulating within the community and there is a risk you could catch or pass on the virus, even once you are fully vaccinated. This means it is important that you understand and consider the risks of catching or spreading COVID-19 in all situations.
While no situation is risk free, there are easy and effective actions we can take to protect ourselves and others around us.
By making safer choices and following public health advice, you can help lower the spread of COVID-19.
Following the advice in this guidance will help you to protect your friends, family, and communities, including those who have been vaccinated.
To help you identify actions and make a plan protect yourself and others in your household from spreading COVID-19. and other viruses in your home, visit Germ Defence website. It is also available in a range of different languages.
COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective. Getting fully vaccinated is the best way of protecting you and others against COVID-19.
If you have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated. Evidence suggests that two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine provide very effective protection against hospitalisation. It usually takes around two to three weeks for your body to develop its protective response.
Even if you have been fully vaccinated, you could still get COVID-19 and pass it on to others. However, vaccination reduces your chances of being infected and significantly reduces your chances of becoming seriously ill or dying.
Meet outdoors or keep indoor spaces well ventilated
When a person infected with COVID-19 coughs, talks or breathes, they release droplets and aerosols which can be breathed in by another person.
Meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission, but this may not always be possible. If you’re indoors, you should let fresh air in to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
The more fresh air you let into your home or other enclosed spaces, the less likely a person is to inhale infectious particles.
You can let in fresh air by uncovering vents and opening doors and windows. Opening your windows for just 10 minutes, or a small amount of time continuously where you can, makes a significant difference. This is particularly important before, during and after meeting people you do not live with indoors.
If you are concerned about the costs of heating, opening windows for shorter periods of time can still help to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.
Wear a face covering
You must wear a face covering in all indoor public places and on public transport (unless exempt). You should also wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed outdoor areas where you come into contact with people you do not usually meet.
Get tested and self-isolate if required
If you have symptoms or test positive
If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test, even if your symptoms are mild. This is because many people experience mild symptoms from COVID-19, but may still pass on the virus to others.
The most important symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of any of the following:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell
You should self-isolate at home while you get a PCR test and wait for the results. You must self-isolate if you test positive. You must self-isolate from the day your symptoms started and the next 10 full days, or from the day your test was taken if you do not have symptoms and the next 10 full days.
Self-isolating is important because you could pass the infection on to others, even if you do not have symptoms. You must stay at home for the full amount of time, because this is the period when the virus is most likely to be passed on to others.
Take tests even if you don’t have symptoms
Around one in three people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. This means they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. Testing regularly increases the chances of detecting COVID-19 when you are infectious but are not displaying symptoms, helping to make sure you do not spread COVID-19.
Rapid lateral flow test kits are available free of charge and they provide a result within 30 minutes at home.
You can use regular rapid lateral flow testing to help manage periods of risk such as after close contact with others in a higher risk environment, or before spending prolonged time with a more vulnerable individual.
If you’re over the age of 18 and need rapid COVID-19 tests you can:
- order rapid COVID tests online for free delivery to your home
- find where to collect free rapid COVID tests
Keep your distance
When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19. These particles can be breathed in by another person.
You should try and keep a safe distance (two metres) between you and anyone outside of your household.
The risk of infection increases the closer you are to another person with the virus. The key thing is to not be too close to people for more than a short period of time, as much as you can.
You can also lower the risks of transmission by reducing the number of people you come into close contact with. For example, avoid peak travel times on public transport, where possible.
Limit close contact with other people
You may choose to limit the close contact you have with people you do not usually live with.
These are personal choices which can help reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. It is important to consider that others may wish to continue to take a more cautious approach. Be considerate of this and give others space to reduce close contacts if they wish.
Wash your hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes
Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day. Regular hand washing is an effective way to reduce your risk of catching illnesses, including COVID-19.
It is particularly important to wash your hands:
- after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose
- before you eat or handle food
- after coming into contact with surfaces touched by many others, such as handles, handrails and light switches
- after coming into contact with shared areas such as kitchens and bathrooms
- when you return home
As the surfaces most likely to have the virus on them are those that are touched by lots of people, such as the trolley handle, the chip and pin machine, or the door handle, you should use hand sanitiser as you enter a building and after you have had contact with surfaces.
Where possible, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Understanding your personal risk outside your home
Whether you are going shopping, to meet a friend for coffee or heading out for the night, thinking about location, proximity, and time can help you make safer choices.
Where are you going? Going somewhere indoors and poorly ventilated is higher risk than meeting someone outdoors.
If you are going somewhere small or crowded, the COVID-19 risk is greater. It is always safer if you can keep your distance from people that you do not live with. You should consider going at a time or to a place that you think it won’t be busy or crowded.
The more time you spend with others, the more chance there is of COVID-19 spreading. Less time means less risk.
You can watch a short video animation to see how considering the three key factors of location, proximity and time can help you make safer choices: