Covid update: When should you avoid going to work?

Dr Hilary Jones explains nine new symptoms of Covid

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Despite Covid infection rates still reaching highs of 142,000 daily cases, the UK Government has lifted legal restrictions across England as part of its new ‘Living with Covid’ plan. The objective of this plan is to treat the virus like any other respiratory infection. However, there are still informal measures in place to protect the most vulnerable.

This means that, although no official, prosecutable restrictions are in place, there is still guidance to be mindful and take precautions not to spread the virus further.

Prior to the lift of restrictions, those who showed COVID-19 symptoms or tested positive for the virus had to stay at home and isolate for 10 days minimum – by law.

However, the Government stated due to the “success of the vaccination programme”, access to effective antiviral medication, as well as natural immunity, the nation is now much better protected against COVID-19 than “at any other point” of the pandemic.

This means risk is supposedly not as high as it’s previously been, and although hospitalisations have risen in recent weeks, it’s been reported that more than half of those in hospital testing positive are not there with the virus as their primary diagnosis.

As of March 18, 2022, the last of the legal restrictions were lifted in the UK but the Government are still asking the public to practice specific safe and responsible behaviours.

So what does this mean for work, and what are the suggested rules?

When should I avoid going to work?

While you are no longer legally required to self-isolate, the Government urges those who are showing symptoms or may have come into contact with the virus to try to stay at home and avoid contact with people until the symptoms subside.

The NHS describes the main COVID-19 symptoms as:

  • A high temperature – this means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  • A new, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours (if you usually have a cough, it may be worse than usual)
  • A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – this means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal

If you’re experiencing any of the above, you should try your best to avoid going to work or work from home if possible.

If you test positive for COVID-19, the virus can be transferable for up to 10 days from when the infection started.

However, NHS guidelines state: “Many people will no longer be infectious to others after five days.”

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So, in the event of a positive test, you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days from when the positive test was received.

You should avoid meeting people at higher risk from COVID-19 for 10 days, especially if their immune system is weaker – regardless of whether they’ve had the vaccine or not.

Guidelines differ slightly for those aged 18 and below, as a positive test for this demographic only asks for a self-isolation of three days.

NHS guidelines state: “Children and young people tend to be infectious to others for less time than adults.

“If they’re well and do not have a temperature after three days, there’s a much lower risk that they’ll pass on COVID-19 to others.”

The NHS advises returning to work or normal day-to-day activities only if you feel well enough to do so, and if you no longer have a high temperature.

Although, if you’re worried about your symptoms or your symptoms start to worsen, contact your GP or call NHS 111.

What are the COVID-19 rules in England now?

The UK Government’s “Living with Covid” plan is in place to start treating the virus like other respiratory infections. New measures include:

  • You are no longer legally required to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, but you are advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others for at least five full days
  • Masks are no longer a legal requirement in most public spaces- although some settings will still request them, such as GP surgeries, hospitals and care homes
  • Lateral flow tests (LFTs) are no longer free, except for the over-75s and over-12s with weakened immune systems
  • The NHS Covid pass is no longer recognised as a “vaccine passport” within the UK

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