Self-isolation rules after contact with a positive coronavirus case

From 16 August 2021 you're not required to self-isolate after confirmed close contact with a positive case of COVID-19 if you're fully vaccinated or under 18.

Close contacts who are fully vaccinated are advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible, so that they can have certainty about their condition.

Why did the government not make this change sooner?

Although most restrictions have been lifted, and many people have been vaccinated, it is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated.

Waiting until mid-August to introduce this exemption has allowed more people to be fully vaccinated, significantly reducing the risk of severe illness and providing greater protection for people across the country.

Why is this change being made while cases are still high?

Unlike in previous waves, the rise in cases driven by the Delta variant is not translating into a significant increase in hospitalisations and deaths. This is due to the effectiveness of the vaccine at reducing the risk of transmission and severe illness.

When will I still need to self-isolate? 

Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should have a PCR test, and self-isolate while they wait for the results. Everyone who tests positive will still be legally required to self-isolate, regardless of vaccination status. Close contacts of confirmed cases will still be legally required to self-isolate if they are over 18 and not fully vaccinated.

What if I haven’t been vaccinated?

If you haven’t been fully vaccinated, you will still need to self-isolate if you are identified as the close contact of a positive case, unless you are under 18.

What is meant by ‘fully vaccinated’?

Individuals are fully vaccinated when they are at least two weeks post-completion of a full course of an authorised vaccine administered in the UK. This is to allow for an antibody response to develop. You need both doses of a two-dose vaccine for maximum protection against COVID-19. You must have been fully vaccinated for at least two weeks at the time of the contact with the positive case.

Can’t people still catch COVID-19 after vaccination? Isn’t this a big risk?

COVID-19 vaccines are effective at reducing the risk of transmission and severe illness. Vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic COVID-19 is estimated to be between 78% and 80% (after both doses, where it is a two-dose vaccine). Although not everyone will be fully vaccinated from 16 August 2021, the risk of onward transmission in the general population will be significantly reduced.

Should I get a test if I have COVID symptoms but have been vaccinated? Why?

Yes, if you have symptoms of COVID-19, arrange to have a PCR test. You should stay at home while you are waiting for a home test kit, a test site appointment or a test result.

I am a contact of a positive case. Do I have to self-isolate while waiting for the results of my PCR test?

From 16 August 2021, if you are fully vaccinated or under 18 at the time of contact with a positive case, you will be exempt from the requirement to self-isolate. You will instead be advised to take a PCR test as soon as possible. You may wish to limit social contact whilst waiting for the results of your PCR test, but you are not required to self-isolate.

What about 18-year-olds who have not yet had a chance to be fully vaccinated?

To give those recently turned 18 the opportunity to be fully vaccinated, they will be treated in the same way as under 18s up until the age of 18 years and 6 months.

If contacts who are fully vaccinated or children are exempt from self-isolation, what is the point of contact tracing/NHS Test and Trace?

All positive cases, regardless of age or vaccination status, are contacted for three reasons:

  • To help ensure that they self-isolate and to check whether they need support to do this.
  • To determine who they might have infected.
  • To establish where and when they might have been infected, so that we can identify potential local outbreaks.

Tracing close contacts allows us to give them appropriate advice on testing and/or self-isolation, depending on their vaccination status and age.

How will people prove that they are fully vaccinated, or will it be on trust?

NHS Test and Trace will check whether you are legally required to self-isolate and will advise you what to do.

Why is a PCR being advised? Why not daily lateral flow tests?

Clinical advice suggests that a PCR test after two days will find a high proportion of cases. Based on the effectiveness of the vaccine at reducing the risk of transmission and projected levels of vaccination, the government does not consider that daily LFD testing in addition to PCR testing would be a proportionate measure. Individuals are however encouraged to continue taking twice weekly LFD tests.

Is the PCR test a legal requirement?

No, it will not be a legal requirement, but close contacts of confirmed cases will be strongly encouraged to take a PCR test to help identify positive cases and prevent risk to other people.

What happens if my PCR test comes back positive?

If your PCR test result is positive, you must self-isolate for 10 days  to avoid spreading the infection to other people. This will continue to be a legal requirement. Those you live with – and any close contacts outside your household – will be advised to get a PCR test and may be required to self-isolate depending on their age and vaccination status. They will need to self-isolate if their PCR test is positive.

Why does this apply to under-18s when younger people (16/17) can now get the vaccine?

Currently 16 and 17 year olds are only being offered a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine and therefore do not have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated.

Will people who are identified as close contacts still receive a 'ping' but then know that they are able to ignore it, or will NHS Test and Trace be aware that people have had two vaccinations and not contact them?  What happens if a person has been vaccinated twice but they are still 'pinged'?

All contacts will still be traced so they are aware that they have had close contact with a positive case and can be given public health advice that is appropriate for their age and vaccination status. In the event that a person is double vaccinated they will not be required to self-isolate but will be advised to take a PCR test.

From 16 August 2021, will staff already self-isolating be able to stop or is it only for newly identified close contacts from that date onwards who can stop self-isolating?

If they were fully vaccinated – or under 18 years and 6 months old  - at the time of the contact with the person who tested positive, they can stop self-isolating on 16 August 2021.

Does the requirement for all close contacts lift, or will it extend to the household/bubble too? Eg I am thinking about a colleague who has a member of their household who is positive, will the whole of their household still need to isolate regardless of vaccination status?

From 16 August 2021, all contacts who are fully vaccinated, or under the age of 18, will no longer have to self-isolate, including both household and non-household contacts.

What is meant by a close contact?

A contact is a person who has been close to someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. You can be a contact any time from 2 days before the person who tested positive developed their symptoms (or, if they did not have any symptoms, from 2 days before the date their positive test was taken), and up to 10 days after, as this is when they can pass the infection on to others. A risk assessment may be undertaken to determine this, but a contact can be:

  • anyone who lives in the same household as another person who has COVID-19 symptoms or 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:
    • face-to-face contact including being coughed on or having a face-to-face conversation within one metre
    • been within one metre for one minute or longer without face-to-face contact
    • been within 2 metres of someone for more than 15 minutes (either as a one-off contact, or added up together over one day)

A person may also be a close contact if they have travelled in the same vehicle or plane as a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

If you have been identified as a contact, you have been assessed as being at risk of developing COVID-19, even if you don’t currently have symptoms. You should follow all the guidance in this document.

An interaction through a Perspex (or equivalent) screen with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 is not usually considered to be a contact, as long as there has been no other contact such as those in the list above.

If you are a contact of someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 you will be notified by the NHS Test and Trace service via text message, email or phone and should follow this guidance closely.

I have been vaccinated and received a notification from the app to self-isolate what should I do?

From 16 August 2021 those who are fully vaccinated or under 18 years of age and identified as a contact will not need to self-isolate; including if they have received a notification from the app. Instead, they will be advised to get a PCR test. The app is being updated to reflect this and sign-post people to testing.

For users who have not been fully vaccinated yet, we recommend they continue to follow the app’s advice to self-isolate as they are at risk of having and spreading the virus.

As we move away from legal restrictions to taking more personal responsibility, the app is perfectly placed to help users make informed decisions.

We encourage people to keep using the NHS COVID-19 app after they’ve received their vaccination.

If I am fully vaccinated, should I isolate if I have symptoms?

Those with symptoms of coronavirus should also continue to self-isolate and get a PCR test, wait until the results of the PCR test are received.

What exactly does 'fully vaccinated' mean?

Fully vaccinated is anyone over 18 years and 6 months who has received their final dose of an MHRA approved vaccine under the UK vaccination programme, or the UK vaccine programme overseas, at least 14 days prior.

If I am fully vaccinated and have been in contact with a positive case but have no symptoms, do I self-isolate?

No, as long as you meet you the criteria for 'fully vaccinated' there is no requirement to self-isolate, but it is advised to take a PCR test.

What if I am a fully vaccinated contact who is already self-isolating on the 16 August 2021?

Individuals are fully vaccinated when they are two weeks post-completion of a full course of an authorised vaccine administered in the UK. This is to allow for an antibody response to develop. You need both doses of a two-dose vaccine for maximum protection against COVID-19. You must have been fully vaccinated at the time of the contact with the positive case.

If I am a contact who is under 18 years and 6 months of age, will I have to self-isolate?

There will be no requirement to self-isolate, but you will be encouraged to take an age-appropriate test as follows:

  • 12-18.5 years old – PCR
  • 5-12 years old – PCR
  • 0-4 years old - PCR where the positive case is in the same household, no test for non-household contacts

I am over 18 years and 6 months taking part in a COVID-19 vaccine clinical trial, do I need to self-isolate as a contact of a positive case?

There is no requirement to self-isolate; it is advised to take a PCR test.

I am over 18 years and 6 months, but I cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, do I have to self-isolate if I am a contact?

There is no requirement to self-isolate; it is advised to take a PCR test.

I have received my vaccines, but only within the last 14 days, do I need to self-isolate if I am identified as a contact?

Individuals who not fully vaccinated (ie 14 days after the final dose) at the point of contact occurring will need complete the full self-isolation period.

I work in a vulnerable healthcare setting will I need to self-isolate after being in contact with a positive case of COVID-19?

If you are over 18 years and 6 months, you are no longer advised to self-isolate, provided that you demonstrate a negative PCR test and take daily LFD tests. PHE has recommended that a risk assessment is undertaken if staff work with highly vulnerable patients/residents.