Coronavirus (COVID-19): self-isolating and close contacts
If you have symptoms of or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 you must self-isolate. If you are a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, follow the guidance on self-isolation and testing below.
Who should self-isolate and for how long
If you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, you should begin self-isolating and book a PCR test. These are widely available and are free.
You should continue to isolate until the result of the test is available. If the result is positive you should continue to self-isolate for 10 full days after the symptoms started.
You can end self-isolation 10 days after your symptoms started, as long as you do not still have a high temperature. If you still have a high temperature, you need to continue to self-isolate until your temperature has returned to normal for 48 hours.
You do not need to continue self-isolating for more than 10 days if you only have a cough or loss of sense of smell/ taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
Close contacts of COVID-19
If you’re a close contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, self-isolation and testing requirements will depend on whether you’re fully vaccinated, your age and where you work.
A close contact can be:
- anyone who lives in the same household as someone with COVID-19 symptoms or who has tested positive for COVID-19
- anyone who has had any of the following types of contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 with a PCR test:
- face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre
- skin-to-skin physical contact for any length of time
- been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
- sexual contacts
- been within two metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)
- travelled in the same vehicle or a plane
Aged 18 and over and not fully vaccinated
If you are aged 18 and over, but not fully vaccinated, you should self-isolate for 10 days following last contact with the positive person.
You will be asked to take a PCR but, even if this is negative, you still need to complete the isolation period.
If you are not able to be vaccinated for a clinical reason, you should complete a period of self-isolation for the full 10 days, even if you receive a negative PCR test result.
Fully vaccinated close contacts
If you are fully vaccinated (more than 14 days since you received the second dose of an approved COVID-19 vaccine) or you have taken part in an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial, you do not need to self-isolate for 10 days if someone you have been in close contact with tests positive for COVID-19.
You should get a PCR test on day two and day eight of the 10-day period following last contact with the positive person.
If the PCR test is positive, whether or not you have symptoms, you should complete a period of 10 days self-isolation from the day you first had symptoms, or the day the test was taken if there were no symptoms.
Even if you’re fully vaccinated, if you have been identified as a close contact, you are advised not to visit hospitals or care homes for 10 days and to minimise contact with those known to be at higher risk if they contract COVID-19, such as the Clinically Extremely Vulnerable Group (CEV) for 10 days.
Young people (aged five to 17)
Young people (aged five to 17) who are not fully vaccinated and are identified as a close contacts should self-isolate and book a PCR test as soon as possible.
If the PCR test is negative, they can end their self-isolation and should arrange to take another PCR test eight days after the last known contact.
If the young person who is a close contact develops symptoms at any time they should immediately self-isolate and book a PCR test, even if the earlier PCR tests were negative.
If any of the PCR tests are positive, this means they have the infection and they should self-isolate for 10 days, in line with advice for confirmed cases.
Children in schools and other structured and supervised settings
Information on how close contacts are identified and managed in schools and other structured and supervised settings is available at:
Children under the age of five
Children under the age of five will be encouraged, but not required, to take a PCR test. They do not need to isolate unless they develop symptoms or have a positive PCR result.
Close contacts with positive PCR test in the past 90 days
If you're a close contact who is fully vaccinated, or under the age of 18, and have had a positive PCR test within 90 days of the date of contact, you do not need to isolate and do not need to book tests at day two and day eight.
However, if you develop symptoms, you should isolate and book a PCR.
Health and Social Care workers
If you're a fully vaccinated, health and social care worker and identified as a close contact, you may not be able to attend the workplace during the 10 day period following last contact.
You should refer to the separate guidance for health and social care workers and discuss with your manager if you can attend the workplace.
Ways to make self-isolating more manageable
While staying at home it can be helpful to:
- ask for support – let friends and family know you might need help walking the dog, taking the children to school or looking after relatives
- talk to your boss if you can’t go to work to see what arrangements can be put in place
- use delivery services, if possible, to deliver things like food shopping and medicines
- order repeat prescriptions by phone or online and ask your pharmacy about getting your medication delivered
- think of other ways to keep in contact with people
- develop a daily routine -get up at the same time as normal and plan how you will spend your day – cooking, reading, tidying, watching TV
- listen to the radio or an audio book if your home feels too quiet
- get as much fresh air as possible
If possible try and build some physical activity into your daily routine such as cleaning or just getting up and walking about the house.
Reducing the spread of COVID-19 within your household
If you have COVID-19, there are practical steps that you can take to protect the members of your household.
If possible, you should try and arrange for one room in your home to be just for you. Try to spend the majority of your time in this room. This could include eating or sleeping.
Ask the people you live with to help by bringing your meals to your door if possible.
If possible, use a separate bathroom too.
Spend as little time as possible in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas. Avoid using shared spaces such as kitchens and other living areas while others are present.
You should try to limit how long you are in a room with others and keep your distance. The more distance you can keep between you, the less chance there is of spreading the virus.
Wear a face covering when spending time in shared areas inside your home to minimise the risk of spread to others.
Keep your house well-ventilated by opening a window to stop the virus collecting in the air. If it's cold outside, it still helps if you can open the window even slightly to allow the air to circulate. Then open windows wider for short, sharp bursts of 10 to 15 minutes regularly throughout the day where it is possible to do so.
Frequently clean surfaces in your home and wash your hands regularly.
Pay particular attention to shared areas of the home, such as kitchens, bathrooms and surfaces that are frequently touched, such as taps, toilet, fridge, door handles, tables and kettles.
Try to avoid sharing or touching things that other people have used, unless you know that they have been cleaned recently with disinfectant. This includes towels, taps and toothbrushes.
Financial support and self-isolating
Financial support may be available if you are in a financial crisis or need short term support whilst self-isolating.
Looking after your mental wellbeing
You may find that social distancing and staying at home can be boring, frustrating or lonely and that your mood and feelings are affected.
You may feel low, worried or have problems sleeping and you might miss being with other people.
There is advice and guidance about how to look after your mental wellbeing:
NHS 111 service
You can ring NHS 111 for information or advice and they will help you decide if you need to contact your GP. Calling your GP may be necessary if you:
- have an existing health condition
- have problems with your immune system
- feel you're not coping with your symptoms
A remote interpreting service for British Sign Language (BSL) and Irish Sign Language (ISL) users in Northern Ireland has been introduced to provide access to NHS 111 and Health and Social Care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. More information is available at:
Advice for blind and partially sighted people
RNIB NI and Guide Dogs have put together advice for blind and partially sighted people during the COVID-19 pandemic. It includes contact information and advice on how to get support in your local community.