How long are you contagious with Covid? When you are most infectious and if you need to self-isolate now

Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in the UK, thanks to restrictions ending and the emergence of a highly infectious BA.2 offshoot of the Omicron variant.

Over the last seven days 534,747 people have reported testing positive for the virus – a 43.9 per cent increase on a week prior.

Hospitalisations have risen by almost 22 per cent, with 11,580 people admitted over the last week, but deaths have remained relatively flat.

With cases on the up again, here’s how long you are contagious with Covid for, and how long you can test positive.

How long are you contagious with Covid?

For previous variants, the World Health Organization said symptoms could begin to develop anywhere between two days and two weeks after infection.

However, the incubation period for Omicron and its offshoots is believed to be much shorter – between three and five days.

It is believed people are at their most infectious one to two days before the onset of symptoms, and during the two to three days afterwards.

This helps explain why Omicron has been able to spread so quickly, as people have passed the virus on before even realizing they have it.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in December: “Recent analysis from the UK Health Security Agency suggests that the window between infection and infectiousness may be shorter for the Omicron variant than the Delta variant.”

Chicago Department of Public Health commissioner Dr Allison Arwady told NBC: “As we’ve seen these new variants develop – Delta, now Omicron – what we’re seeing is everything gets sped up.

“It is taking less time from when someone is exposed to Covid to potentially develop infection. It is taking less time to develop symptoms, it is taking less time that someone may be infectious and it is, for many people, taking less time to recover. A lot of that is because many more people are vaccinated. “

Data shows that the majority of people are no longer infectious seven days after beginning to experience symptoms or first testing positive, particularly when vaccinated, and the vast majority are no longer infectious after 10 days.

It is worth noting that many people have reported experiencing different symptoms with Omicron than those most commonly associated with Covid-19; a cough, fever, shortness of breath and loss or change to taste and smell.

Among those symptoms are:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches and pains
  • Headache
  • Scratchy throat
  • Runny nose

If you experience any of these symptoms you should take a lateral flow test, and you are advised to isolate if it is positive.

More on COVID-19

How long can you test positive for Covid?

Most people will stop testing positive within 10 days of starting to experience symptoms, or receiving their first positive test.

However, it is possible to continue testing positive for weeks or even months after having the virus.

The good news is that even if you are continuing to test positive after a long time, it is highly unlikely you are actually contagious.

The Gavi Vaccine Alliance explains: “The time taken to test negative after contracting Covid-19 depends on the severity of the case, and also on the test itself. PCR tests that hunt out parts of viral genetic material (RNA in the case of Covid-19) in our bodies and amplify it so we can detect it are extremely sensitive and can even pick up the presence of few viral fragments. This is because fragments of viral RNA can remain in our bodies long after the infection is over and the virus has been cleared from our system. “

How long do I have to self-isolate?

The legal requirement to self-isolate after testing positive has been scrapped in England, under the Living with Covid plan.

However, people are still being advised to stay at home and avoid contact with others.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland still have isolation rules in place.

People are able to leave isolation on the sixth day after testing positive if they test negative on day five and day six.

If they do not, they can leave isolation after testing negative on two consecutive days or after 10 full days, even if they are still testing positive.

The only exception is in you are still feeling unwell, in which case you should continue to isolate. If you just have a cough you are free to leave isolation.

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