The Government has published its Living with COVID-19 plan, which announced the end of legal restrictions (such as the legal requirement to self-isolate if you have COVID-19) and the scaling down of population-wide testing.
Continuing the careful path towards living safely with COVID-19 is possible because of the success of the COVID-19 vaccination and booster rollout which has meant that there is a much lower risk of severe illness or hospitalisation for people who catch COVID-19.
But we also know the pandemic is not over, so it’s important we continue to take simple and effective actions that will protect our families and communities, particularly those at the greatest risk of severe illness.
Understanding how COVID-19 spreads can help us assess risks in our daily lives.
When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release small particles (droplets and aerosols) that contain the virus that causes COVID-19.
These 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.
The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 can be higher in certain places and when doing certain activities such as singing or vigorous exercise. In general, the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is highest when you are physically close to someone who is infected.
But it is possible to be infected even by someone you do not have close contact with, especially if you are in a crowded, enclosed or poorly ventilated space. This is because the infectious particles can stay suspended in the air for some time.
The following five actions will help you protect yourself and others around you:
Vaccines are the best defence we have against COVID-19 and provide excellent protection against hospitalisation and death and also reduce the risk of long-term symptoms.
If you are eligible and have not yet received 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible. Evidence indicates that 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine continues to provide protection against severe disease, including against Omicron, but this protection declines slowly over time. Boosters provide a high level of protection against Omicron. You should get a booster vaccine for COVID-19 as soon as possible if you haven’t had one.
The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) has advised an additional spring booster dose for the most vulnerable people in the population.
2.Avoid other people if you have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive
People with a new continuous cough, high temperature or a loss of, or change in normal sense of taste or smell should continue to order a PCR test which remain freely available to everyone until March.
If you have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19 or a positive test result, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people. For instance, we advise that you don’t go to work or invite visitors to your home.
You should particularly avoid meeting people at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19, especially those with a severely weakened immune system.
If you have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive, please read this important new guidance which explains what you need to do, including how long we advise that you should stay at home and avoid other people for.
3.Let fresh air in
In poorly ventilated areas the amount of virus in the air can build up. This increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, especially if there are lots of infected people present. The virus can remain in the air after an infected person has left the area.
Bringing fresh air into a room or space and removing older stale air that contains virus particles reduces the chance of spreading COVID-19. The more fresh air that is brought inside, the quicker any virus will be removed from the room.
Don’t forget, if you are meeting others, meeting them outdoors is safer.
Find out more in this ventilation guidance.
4.Wear a face covering
When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release small particles (droplets and aerosols) that contain the virus that causes COVID-19. Wearing a face covering can reduce the spread of coronavirus particles.
There is also some evidence that face coverings can protect the person wearing the face covering from becoming infected.
While rates of infection are still high, consider wearing a face covering in crowded or enclosed spaces.
You may also wish to wear a face covering if you are visiting or caring for someone who is at higher risk from COVID-19. This is even more important if you have any flu-like symptoms.
Face coverings should be made with two or more layers of breathable fabric and fit snugly around the mouth and nose.
5.Remember hand washing and the basics of good hygiene
Protect yourself and others by covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, washing your hands frequently and cleaning surfaces that are touched frequently such as door handles, light switches and TV remote controls.
We’re grateful to the millions of people have followed this advice and taken other important actions to keep themselves and others safe during each phase of the pandemic. They remain just as crucial in this next phase.
For more information on how to protect yourself and your community read the Government’s guidance Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread.