COVID-19: Self-isolation FAQs

The rules on self-isolation have recently changed for people who are under 18 or who are fully vaccinated. You can find full details of the changes on the UK government website.


Below, we have answered some common questions about self-isolation.

Self-isolation means you cannot go out of your house for at least ten days. But don’t worry, there is support available for you.

Start by asking family and friends for help. But if you need more support, or if you have no other means of support, please contact our helpline by calling 01204 337221.

There are also other sources of support and information that can help, such as the Every Mind Matters website. Also see the last section below, called Further help.

Download your Self-Isolation Support Pack  and 10 Ways To Do Your 10 Days Self-Isolation Checklist for help preparing for and getting through your self-isolation period.

Why is self-isolating important?

People are being asked to self-isolate because we must stop the virus being passed on from person to person. It can take up to ten days for symptoms to develop, and around a third of people never develop symptoms at all. This means that you can pass the virus on to other people without even knowing that you’ve got it.

We need to stop that happening. And we need your help to do this.

When must you self-isolate?

You must self-isolate if:

  • You have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • You have tested positive for COVID-19.
  • You have been told to by NHS Test and Trace.
  • You have been in close contact with or live with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, unless you are exempt (see Who Doesn’t Need to Self-isolate, below).

If you need to self-isolate, you must stay at home for at least ten full days to prevent passing the virus on to others. Bear in mind that you can pass the virus to others even if you do not have symptoms.

People who live with you or have been in close contact with you will also need to self-isolate, unless they are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, below).

You may also need to self-isolate on arriving in the UK from abroad. These requirements are separate to the rules on self-isolation listed above. They are explained below, in the section calledI will be arriving in the UK from abroad. Do I need to self-isolate?

Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate?

Everyone must self-isolate if they have COVID-19 symptoms or test positive – see above.

However, some close contacts may be exempt from self-isolation.

This only applies to people who are under 18 or who were fully vaccinated for at least 14 days at the time of their contact with the person who has tested positive for COVID-19 or has COVID-19 symptoms.

These people no longer need to self-isolate because of being in contact with someone who has tested positive or being contacted by NHS Test and Trace. However, they are advised take a PCR test as soon as possible to be sure that they have not picked up COVID-19. They do not need to self-isolate while they wait for the result. But if the PCR test comes back positive, they must self-isolate – this is a legal requirement.

To be clear, if you are over 18 and you are not fully vaccinated, you must self-isolate as normal and a negative COVID-19 test does not mean you can stop isolating. This applies whether your test was a PCR or rapid lateral flow (LFD) test.

And anyone who develops COVID-19 symptoms should self-isolate and get a PCR test, and remain in isolation until the result comes back, regardless of their age or vaccination status.

Where can I get a PCR test?

You can book a test appointment online or order a PCR test to be delivered to you by post. You should not go to a test centre without an appointment. Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.

Remember that if your PCR test comes back positive, you’ll need to self-isolate even if you are under 18 or are fully vaccinated, and regardless of whether or not you have symptoms.

Find out more about ordering a test and what you need to do when you get the result on this government webpage.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The main symptoms of COVID-19 are:

  • A new continuous cough.
  • A high temperature.
  • A loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell (anosmia).

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means that you need to stay at home, away from other people.

This means:

  • You cannot go shopping.
  • You cannot take your dog for a walk.
  • You cannot go to your workplace.
  • You cannot play sports or go out for exercise (you can exercise in your private garden if you have one).
  • You cannot go to a place of worship.
  • Do not invite or allow social visitors, such as other friends or family, to enter your home.
  • If you or a family member receive essential care in your home, then carers should continue to visit. Carers should follow the relevant guidance to reduce the risk of you passing on the infection.
  • You should cancel all routine medical appointments but first please speak with your doctor, GP, hospital, etc.

You should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing:

  • Emergency assistance.
  • Care or assistance, including personal care.
  • Medical assistance.
  • Veterinary services.
  • Certain critical public services.

If you have symptoms, then some of the people who you live with may also need to self-isolate (see Should the people who live with me also self-isolate?, below).

If you have to self-isolate because you have been contacted by Test and Trace or are returning to or entering the UK from abroad, then the people you live with do not have to self-isolate (unless they were abroad with you - see below). You should keep your distance from them, eat and prepare food separately, clean toilets, baths etc once you have washed in them.

It is important to avoid contact with other people as much as possible in your home to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus. You should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

Staying at home will greatly reduce the overall amount of infection the household could pass on to others in the community.

How long do I need to self-isolate for?

  • 10 days if you develop symptoms and you must book a test. If you are over 18 and you are not fully vaccinated, you must self-isolate as normal and a negative COVID-19 test does not mean you can stop isolating. If you are under 18 or fully vaccinated, you can stop isolating if your test is negative.
  • 10 days for the people you live with, unless they are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above). If they develop symptoms they should book a test.
  • 10 days if you are contacted by Test and Trace because you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive, unless you are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above).
  • 10 days if you've got an alert from the NHS Covid App, telling you that you've spent time near someone who has tested positive for coronavirus, unless you are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above). 
  • 10 days - if you are returning from holiday from a non-exempt country or you are arriving in the UK from an amber list country AND you are not fully vaccinated with vaccines authorised by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA respectively. Find out more on the UK government website.

I’m self-isolating because of being a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and I develop symptoms. What should I do?

Book a free test on www.nhs.uk/coronavirus at a drive in centre or to get a home test.

Please don’t turn up at a drive or walk-in in centre without an appointment.

Please keep trying the website if it does not show the Bolton sites. Appointments are released in batches throughout the day.

If your symptoms worsen within your ten-day isolation period, then please contact NHS 111 again and follow their advice.

I’ve been self-isolating and it has finished but then I develop symptoms. What should I do?

If you develop new symptoms just after your previous isolation period ended you need to self-isolate for ten days and book a new test.

Anyone you live with also needs to self-isolate for ten days, unless they are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above).

I’ve been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace, but I don’t have symptoms. Can I get a test and return to work?

You should only book a PCR test if you develop symptoms.

If you have been told to self-isolate by Test and Trace and you are over 18 and not fully vaccinated, you cannot return to work and must continue to self-isolate for the full ten days, even if you do not have symptoms.

However, the rules are different for people who are under 18 or who have been fully vaccinated for at least 14 days. See the section called: Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate?

Should the people who live me also self-isolate?

If you are self-isolating because you have developed symptoms or have a positive test, then the people who live with you also need to self-isolate for ten days, unless they are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above).

Alternatively, you may also need to self-isolate because you have been told to by Test and Trace because you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive.

In this case, the people you live with don’t need to self-isolate unless they are specifically told to do so. You should keep your distance from them, eat and prepare food separately, clean toilets, clean baths etc once you have washed.

It is important to avoid contact with other people in your home as much as possible to reduce the risk of transmitting coronavirus. You should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

Not all these measures will be possible if you are living with children or people with significant conditions such as learning disabilities, autism or serious mental illness. Please keep following this guidance to the best of your ability, while keeping yourself and those close to you safe and well, ideally in line with any existing care plans.

I have a clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable person living with me. What should I do?

Where possible, arrange for anyone who is clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable to move out of your home, to stay with friends or family for the duration of your self-isolation period.

If you cannot arrange for vulnerable people to move out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible, following the guidance here. For the clinically extremely vulnerable please follow the shielding guidance.

Those who are clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable should be supported to take precautions to minimise their contact with other people in your household, regardless of whether others have symptoms or not. They should minimise time spent in shared spaces such as kitchens, bathrooms and sitting areas. Any shared spaces should be well ventilated.

If they can, clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable people should use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household. If this is not possible, consider drawing up a rota for bathing, with the clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable person using the facilities first. They should use separate towels from the rest of the household, both for drying themselves after bathing or showering and when washing their hands.

If they can, clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable members of the household should have their meals in their own rooms. If you have one, use a dishwasher to clean and dry the family’s used crockery and cutlery. If this is not possible, wash them using your usual washing up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly. If the clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable person is using their own utensils, remember to use a separate tea towel for drying these.

It will be difficult for some people to separate themselves from others at home. You need to do your very best to follow this guidance and everyone in your household should regularly wash their hands, avoid touching their face, and clean frequently touched surfaces.

What should I do if my child has symptoms?

If your child develops symptoms then please start to self-isolate them and book a test. See the section above called Where Can I Get a PCR Test?

Your child will need to self-isolate until you get the test results. If the result is negative, they can stop isolating. If the result is positive, they should continue to self-isolate – see below.

What should I do if my child tests positive for COVID-19?

  • Your child shouldn’t attend school.
  • Your child should self-isolate for at least 10 days from when symptoms started (or from the day of the test if no symptoms).
  • Inform school immediately about test results.
  • The people in your household should self-isolate for 10 days from the day when symptoms started (or from the day of the test if no symptoms), even if someone tests negative during those 10 days, unless they are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above).

Your child can return to school after 10 days, provided they feel better and have been fever-free for at least 48 hours. They can return to school after 10 days even if they have a cough or loss of smell / taste, as these symptoms can last for several weeks once the infection is gone.

Self-isolation for your child means:

  • You need to keep your child at home.
  • Your child cannot go out.
  • Your child cannot go to school.
  • Your child cannot go shopping with you.
  • Your child cannot go out to play.
  • Your child cannot go out to take part in sports activities.
  • Your child cannot attend out of school clubs or extracurricular activities, including sports clubs.
  • You cannot send your child to any childcare. It is really important that you are honest with your provider.
  • Friends or family who do not live with you or are not part of a childcare or support bubble must not visit your home to help with childcare.
  • You cannot take them to a place of worship.

The Test and Trace Support payment scheme has been extended to parents and guardians who are not legally required to self-isolate, but who need to take time off work to look after a child or young person who is self-isolating. It applies where the child or young person has been told to self-isolate on or after 8 March 2021.

We know this can be difficult, especially if you have no one to help you with support. If so, please contact our support helpline by calling 01204 337221.

There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as the Every Mind Matters website.

I have one child isolating due to a positive Covid-19 test, but have another child / children at school that I need to take and pick up. What should I do?

Please form a support bubble or childcare support bubble. If this is not possible please contact our support helpline by calling 01204 337221.

Washing your hands and keeping good hygiene

Everyone should wash their hands regularly. Wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water, for at least 20 seconds, rinse and dry thoroughly. Use alcohol-based hand sanitiser if soap and water are not available. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of tissues into a plastic waste bag and immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; rinse and dry them thoroughly.

Good hand hygiene is particularly important for people who have recently travelled to the UK, because you could have contracted coronavirus and not yet developed symptoms.

Cleaning and disposal of waste

When cleaning you should use your usual household products, like detergents and bleach, as these will be very effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces. Clean frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, handrails, remote controls and tabletops. This is particularly important if you have a clinically vulnerable or clinically extremely vulnerable person in the house.

Clean a shared bathroom each time you use it; for example, by wiping the surfaces you have touched.

Personal waste (such as used tissues) and disposable cleaning cloths can be stored securely within disposable rubbish bags. These bags should be placed into another bag, tied securely and kept separate from other waste. This should be put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in your usual external household waste bin.

Other household waste can be disposed of as normal.

Laundry

To minimise the possibility of dispersing virus through the air, do not shake dirty laundry.

Wash items in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. All dirty laundry can be washed in the same load.

If you do not have a washing machine, wait a further 72 hours after your self-isolation has ended when you can then take the laundry to a public launderette.

Do not share towels, including hand towels and tea towels.

Are the rules on self-isolation the same as the rules on quarantine for travel to and from foreign countries?

No. The rules about self-isolation only apply within the UK.

There are separate rules about testing and quarantine for when you are arriving in the UK from foreign countries. You can find a summary of these rules below or get more detail on the government website.

I will be arriving in the UK from abroad. Do I need to self-isolate?

When you arrive in the UK, you must self-isolate in the place where you’re staying for the first ten days that you are in the UK, unless:

  • You are arriving from an exempt country and have not been in a non-exempt country in the previous ten days.
  • You are arriving from an amber list country AND you are fully vaccinated with vaccines authorised by the EMA and FDA in Europe and the USA. Find out more on the UK government website.

If you’re travelling from an exempt country and have not been in a non-exempt country in the previous ten days, you will not need to self-isolate. You should check the list of exempt countries before you travel.

However, if you arrive in the UK from an exempt country but have been in a country that is not exempt within the last ten days, you will need to self-isolate for the remainder of the ten days since you were last in a non-exempt country.

If you are travelling to the UK for less than ten days but are required to self-isolate, you will be expected to self-isolate for the length of your stay.

You need to complete the public health passenger locator form 48 hours before you arrive. You must present these details on your arrival in England.

There’s further information about your employment rights on return to the UK following a period of travel on the government website.

If you cannot safely self-isolate for ten days, you should tell Border Force Officers when you pass through UK border controls. They will provide you with details of a booking service that you can use to obtain accommodation where you can self-isolate at your own expense.

I’m self-isolating after arriving in or returning to the UK and develop symptoms. What should I do?

See the section above called: I’m self-isolating because of being a close contact of someone with COVID-19 and I develop symptoms. What should I do?

How do I self-isolate where I am staying?

You should self-isolate in one place for the full 10 days, where you can have food and other necessities delivered, and should stay away from others unless you travelled to the UK with them.

If you are returning from holiday from a non-exempt country, you must self-isolate at the address you provided on the public health passenger locator form.

This can include:

  • Your own home.
  • Staying with friends or family.
  • A hotel or other temporary accommodation.

You should not have visitors, including friends and family, unless they are providing:

  • Emergency assistance.
  • Care or assistance, including personal care.
  • Medical assistance.
  • Veterinary services.
  • Certain critical public services.

You cannot go out to work or school or visit public areas. You should not go shopping. If you require help buying groceries, other shopping or picking up medication, you should ask friends or relatives or order a delivery.

In England, you must only exercise within your home or garden. You cannot leave your home to walk your dog.

If you’re staying in a hotel or guest house, you must stay away from others who didn’t travel with you, so it’s important that you don’t use shared areas such as bars, restaurants, health clubs and sports facilities. Stay two metres apart from other people staying there at all times.

Can I get help when I am self-isolating?

UK residents who have tested positive for the virus and who have been asked to self-isolate by the NHS Test and Trace service could qualify for a £500 support payment if they cannot work and face a loss of income.

People who have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace because they have been in contact with someone who has tested positive could also be eligible.

Who is eligible for the payment?

You may be eligible for the support payment if:

  • You have been told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace either because you have tested positive for COVID-19 or because you are the close contact of a positive case.
  • You are employed or self-employed.
  • You are in receipt of at least one of the following benefits: Universal Credit, Working Tax Credit, Income-related Employment and Support Allowance, Housing Benefit, Income Support, Income based Job Seeker’s Allowance or Pension Credit.
  • You are unable to work from home and will lose income as a result.

How do I apply?

Applications for the support payment can be made online via Bolton Council. For full details visit bolton.gov.uk/benefits/test-trace-payments

What should I do if I have problems self-isolating?

Seek prompt medical attention if your illness or the illness of someone in your household is worsening. If it’s not an emergency, contact the NHS 111 online COVID-19 service. If you have no internet access, call NHS 111.

If it is a medical emergency and you need to call an ambulance, dial 999 and inform the call handler or operator that you or your relative have COVID-19 symptoms.

There may be other circumstances which may permit you to leave your place of self-isolation.

It may be useful to seek advice from a medical or other professional to discuss your circumstances so that you can decide whether, for example, you have a health condition or a disability that would be seriously exacerbated if you were not able to leave the accommodation (and its outdoor areas) where you are self-isolating to take exercise.

In very limited circumstances, you change the location of where you are self-isolating. These are:

  • A legal obligation requires you to change address, such as where you are a child whose parents live separately, and you need to move between homes as part of a shared custody agreement.
  • It is necessary for you to stay overnight at accommodation before travelling to the place where you will be self-isolating for the remainder of the 10 days.
  • There are exceptional circumstances in which it becomes impracticable to remain at the original address.

If this happens and you are self-isolating because of returning from a country on the non-exempt list, you should provide full details of each address where you will self-isolate on the public health passenger locator form.

If, in exceptional circumstances, you cannot remain where you are staying, you must complete a new form as soon as possible.

What should I do after self-isolating?

If you do not have any coronavirus symptoms after 10 days, you can stop self-isolating.

If you arrived in the UK more than 10 days ago, you do not need to continue self-isolation once you have had symptoms for 10 days and your temperature has returned to normal. Symptoms of a cough or changes to your sense of smell or taste can last for several weeks after the infection has gone and so you can stop self-isolating even if you have these symptoms.

The household you are staying with should self-isolate for 10 days from the point that your symptoms start, unless people are exempt (see Who DOESN’T need to self-isolate, above).

You will then need to follow the same rules as people who live in the UK. Check the rules for the part of the UK you’re staying in:

Further help

We know that self-isolation can be hard. Staying at home may be difficult, frustrating or lonely, but there are things that you can do to help make it easier.

Please call our helpline if you do not have a network of family and friends you can call upon for support.

Please call 01204 337221. The opening hours are:

  • Monday to Friday from 8.30am – 5.30pm
  • Saturdays and Sundays from 9am – 1.30pm

We can help with food and essential items, as well as other support.

If you can’t ring then please use our coronavirus support online form

You can also access the existing Council Tax Hardship scheme and other support initiatives such as the Local Welfare Provision scheme. Our Bolton Money Skills Service can help you with debt, budgeting, energy advice and other money worries.

NHS Volunteer Responders are also on hand to have a friendly chat. If you would like a telephone ‘check in and chat’ please call 0808 196 3646 (8am to 8pm) to arrange volunteer support.

Further advice is available on the NHS website.

There are also sources of support and information that can help, such as the Every Mind Matters website.

Prevention and Self-isolation Guidance for Businesses