Find out how to stay safe and help prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Applies to England
What has changed
The government has announced that England has moved to Plan B in response to the risks of the Omicron variant.
- Face coverings are required by law in most indoor settings.
- Office workers who can work from home should do so.
- Certain venues and events will be required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated, have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or have an exemption.
COVID-19 remains a risk
It is still possible to catch and spread COVID-19, even if you are fully vaccinated.
Anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result should stay at home and self-isolate immediately. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you should arrange to take a PCR test as soon as possible, even if you’ve had one or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.
COVID-19 will be a feature of our lives for the foreseeable future, so we need to learn to live with it and manage the risk to ourselves and others.
All of us can play our part by understanding the situations where risks of COVID-19 infection and transmission are likely to be higher, and taking action to reduce these risks.
Following this guidance will help you to understand situations where there is a greater risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 and the steps that you can take to stay safe and protect others. Every action you can take to help reduce the spread will help reduce pressure on the NHS during the winter months.
Understanding the risks of COVID-19
The risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 can be higher in certain places and when doing certain activities. COVID-19 is spread by airborne transmission, close contact via droplets, and via surfaces. Airborne transmission is a very significant way that the virus circulates. It is possible to be infected by someone you don’t have close contact with, especially if you’re in a crowded and/or poorly ventilated space.
Close contact with an infected person is also a significant way COVID-19 is spread. When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19. The 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.
In general, the risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 is higher in crowded and enclosed spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious and limited fresh air.
In situations where there is a higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19, you should be particularly careful to follow the guidance on keeping yourself and others safe. Every little action helps to keep us all safer.
Keeping yourself and others safe
There are still cases of COVID-19 in England and there is a risk you could catch or pass on the virus, even once you are fully vaccinated. This means it is important that you understand and consider the risks of catching or spreading COVID-19 in all situations.
While no situation is risk free, there are easy and effective actions you can take to protect yourself and others around you.
If you are worried about going back to a more ‘normal’ life, there is information from the NHS on how to cope with anxiety about lockdown lifting.
All adults in England have now been offered at least 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines are safe and effective. Getting fully vaccinated is the best way of protecting you and others against COVID-19.
If you have not yet received the COVID-19 vaccine, you should get vaccinated. Evidence indicates that 2 doses of a COVID-19 vaccine provide very effective protection against hospitalisation. It usually takes around 2 to 3 weeks for your body to develop its protective response.
To maintain this high level of protection through the coming winter, you should also get a booster vaccine for COVID-19 when offered. Winter is a difficult time when our immunity is weaker. Getting the booster vaccine is an essential part of ensuring immune defence this season.
However, even if you have been fully vaccinated, you could still get COVID-19 and pass it on to others. Whilst the vaccines provide a high level of protection against severe disease, hospitalisation and death, a recent UKHSA report shows that around 1 in 5 people who have had both doses are still vulnerable to getting infected with the Delta variant and showing symptoms. You can also still spread COVID-19 to others. We all need to do what we can to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to protect others and to reduce the risk of new variants developing and spreading.
Following the advice in this guidance will help you to protect your friends, family, and communities, including those who have been vaccinated.
Get tested and self-isolate if required
If you have symptoms or test positive
If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test, even if your symptoms are mild. This is because many people experience mild symptoms from COVID-19, but may still pass on the virus to others.
The main symptoms of COVID-19 are recent onset of any of the following:
- a new continuous cough
- a high temperature
- a loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell
You should self-isolate at home while you get a PCR test and wait for the results. You must self-isolate from the day your symptoms started, or from the day you receive a positive test result if you do not have any symptoms. You can end your self-isolation on the sixth day of self-isolation following 5 full days isolating and 2 negative rapid lateral flow test tests taken on consecutive days.
The first rapid lateral flow test should not be taken before the fifth day. The self-isolation period remains 10 full days for those without negative results from 2 rapid lateral flow tests taken a day apart. This is the law, regardless of whether you have been vaccinated. Self-isolating is important because you could pass the infection on to others, even if you do not have symptoms. You must self-isolate for the full amount of time you are told to, because this is the period when the virus is most likely to be passed on to others.
If you have received a positive rapid lateral flow test result but do not have any of the main symptoms of COVID-19, you should report your result and self-isolate. You do not need to take a follow-up PCR test unless:
- you wish to claim the Test and Trace Support Payment
- you have a health condition that means you may be suitable for new COVID-19 treatments
- you are taking rapid lateral flow tests as part of research or surveillance programmes, and the programme asks you to do so
- you are an international arrival and have a positive day 2 rapid lateral flow test
If you are told to self-isolate by NHS Test and Trace
You must also self-isolate if you are told to do so by NHS Test and Trace. Find out:
- what you should do if you live in the same household as someone who has tested positive
- what you should do if you’ve come into contact with someone outside your household who has tested positive
Guidance on self-isolating
When self-isolating, follow the:
- stay at home guidance for people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19
- stay at home guidance for non-household contacts of people with confirmed COVID-19
This will help reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to other members of your household and community. In both cases you must isolate at all times and not have contact with other people. There are only very limited circumstances when you do not have to do this, such as seeking medical assistance. If you do leave your home during your period of self-isolation for a permitted reason, you should maintain social distancing, keep 2 metres apart from other people, and wear a face covering where possible.
You may be entitled to a one-off payment of £500 through the NHS Test and Trace Support Payment scheme if you are required to stay at home and self-isolate, or you are the parent or guardian of a child who has been told to self-isolate. You should visit your local authority website for information on Test and Trace Support Payments and other practical support offered in your area including help accessing food. If you require prescription medication there is a medicine delivery service available through pharmacies and dispensing GPs.
You could be fined if you do not self-isolate after being told to by NHS Test and Trace.
You’re not required to self-isolate if you live in the same household as someone with COVID-19, or are a close contact of someone with COVID-19, and any of the following apply:
- you’re fully vaccinated
- you’re below the age of 18 years and 6 months
- you’ve taken part in or are currently part of an approved COVID-19 vaccine trial
- you’re not able to get vaccinated for medical reasons
If you are aged 5 years and over and have been identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19, and you are not legally required to self-isolate, you are now strongly advised to:
- take a lateral flow test every day for 7 days
- take this daily lateral flow test before you leave your home for the first time that day
If any of these lateral flow tests are positive, you should immediately self-isolate in order to protect other people.
NHS Test and Trace will contact you to let you know that you have been identified as a contact and check whether you are legally required to self-isolate.
If you have previously received a positive COVID-19 PCR test result, you are not usually advised to be re-tested within 90 days of this result.
However, you should have a PCR test within 90 days of a previous positive PCR test if you develop any new symptoms of COVID-19 or you are required to take a PCR test upon entry into the UK.
If you are tested within 90 days of a positive PCR test result for either of these reasons, and the PCR test result is positive, you must self-isolate and follow the stay at home guidance.
Let fresh air in if you meet indoors. Meeting outdoors is safer
When a person infected with COVID-19 coughs, talks or breathes, they release droplets and aerosols which can be breathed in by another person. Meeting outdoors vastly reduces the risk of airborne transmission, but this may not always be possible. If you’re indoors, you should let fresh air in to reduce the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19.
The more fresh air you let into your home or other enclosed spaces, the less likely a person is to inhale infectious particles.
You can let in fresh air by uncovering vents and opening doors and windows. Opening your windows for just 10 minutes, or a small amount of time continuously where you can, makes a significant difference. This is particularly important before, during, and after meeting people you do not live with indoors.
Do not prop fire doors open. If you have an extractor fan at home, for example in your bathroom or kitchen, think about leaving it running for longer than usual with the door closed after someone has used the room. If you are concerned about the costs of heating, opening windows for shorter periods of time can still help to reduce the risk of the virus spreading. Wearing extra layers can help you to keep warm. You may be able to change the layout of your room so that you do not sit close to cold draughts from open windows or doors.
There is guidance for the public on how to ventilate indoor spaces to stop the spread of COVID-19, including if someone is self isolating. This includes advice on how to claim financial and practical help on heating your home.
Wear a face covering
From 10 December 2021, face coverings are required by law in most indoor public places and on public transport, including taxis. See a full list of places where you must wear a face covering.
There are some exemptions. You do not have to wear a face covering in hospitality settings such as cafés, restaurants and pubs. This is because it is not practical to keep removing face coverings to eat or drink.
You do not need to wear a face covering in nightclubs or certain other night-time venues, including dance halls and discotheques. This is because it is not recommended that you wear a face covering while exercising or during strenuous physical activity, including dancing.
Settings which are exempt from wearing a face covering include:
- restaurants, cafés and canteens
- bars and shisha bars
- gyms and exercise facilities
- photography studios
- nightclubs, dance halls and discotheques
In indoor settings where a face covering is not legally required, you should still continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed spaces where you may come into contact with other people you do not normally meet.
Work from home if you can
Office workers who can work from home should do so from Monday 13 December 2021. Anyone who cannot work from home should continue to go into work - for example, to access equipment necessary for their role or where their role must be completed in person. In-person working will be necessary in some cases to continue the effective and accessible delivery of some public services and private industries. If you need to continue to go into work, consider taking lateral flow tests regularly to manage your own risk and the risk to others.
Employers should consider whether home working is appropriate for workers facing mental or physical health difficulties, or those with a particularly challenging home working environment.
For those who attend their workplace, the government will continue to provide up-to-date Working Safely guidance on how employers can reduce the risks in their workplace. Businesses should consider this guidance when preparing their health and safety risk assessments, and put in place suitable mitigations.
Required use of the NHS COVID Pass
From 15 December 2021, certain venues and events are required by law to check that all visitors aged 18 years or over are fully vaccinated (currently a full course of vaccination without the need for a booster, but this will be kept under review), have proof of a negative test in the last 48 hours, or that they have an exemption. This means that those aged 18 years or over must show their NHS COVID Pass, or an alternative proof of a negative test result, such as an NHS Test and Trace email or text proof, to gain entry into these venues.
You can access your NHS COVID Pass through:
The NHS COVID Pass lets you share your COVID vaccination status and test results in a secure way for entry to domestic venues or events.
You can obtain an NHS COVID Pass 2 weeks after completing a full course of vaccination or with a negative test in the last 48 hours. To strengthen the protection testing provides you are strongly advised to take tests as late as possible before attending the event, ideally within 12 hours. The NHS COVID Pass can be obtained with 2 doses (or one of the single-dose Janssen vaccine), but we will keep this under review as boosters are rolled out. You can also obtain an NHS COVID Pass if:
- you have received a trial vaccine as part of a formally approved COVID-19 vaccine trial in the UK
- you have a medical reason that means you cannot be vaccinated or tested, confirmed by your GP or a specialist clinician
You can also show email or text proof of your negative test result in order to gain entry to these venues.
The use of the NHS COVID Pass is required as a condition of entry into the following places:
- nightclubs, dancehalls and discotheques
- other late night dance venues - these are any other venues that are:
- open between 1am and 5am
- serve alcohol during this time
- have a dancefloor (or designated space for dancing), and
- provide music, whether live or recorded, for dancing
- indoor events with 500 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as music venues with standing audiences or large receptions
- outdoor events with 4,000 or more unseated attendees, where those attendees are likely to stand or move around for all or part of the event, such as outdoor festivals
- any events with 10,000 or more attendees indoor or outdoor, such as large sports and music events
There are some settings that will be exempt from requirements to use the NHS COVID Pass including communal worship, wedding ceremonies, funerals and other commemorative events, protests, and mass participation sporting events.
Take a test if you do not have symptoms to help manage your risk
Around 1 in 3 people with COVID-19 do not have any symptoms. This means they could be spreading the virus without knowing it. Testing regularly increases the chances of detecting COVID-19 when you are infectious but are not displaying symptoms, helping to make sure you do not spread COVID-19 by staying at home and self-isolating immediately.
Rapid lateral flow testing continues to be available free of charge. You can get tests from pharmacies or online. Find out more about how to get rapid lateral flow tests.
You are at higher risk of catching or passing on COVID-19 in crowded and enclosed spaces, where there are more people who might be infectious and where there is limited fresh air.
You may wish to take a rapid lateral flow test if it is expected there will be a period of high risk that day. This is particularly important if you expect that there will be a period of high risk that day. This includes spending time in crowded and enclosed spaces, or before visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19. Report your result and if positive, self-isolate immediately and take a PCR test.
Certain places such as health and social care settings, schools and prisons have their own specific testing rules and guidance. You should always make sure you are aware of this guidance if you visit or work in these places.
Try to stay at home if you’re feeling unwell
If you develop COVID-19 symptoms, self-isolate immediately and get a PCR test, even if your symptoms are mild. You should self-isolate at home while you book the test and wait for the results. You must self-isolate if you test positive.
If you feel unwell but do not have COVID-19 symptoms, or your COVID-19 test is negative, you may still have an illness which could be passed on to other people. Many common illnesses, like the flu or the common cold, are spread from one person to another. This can happen:
- when someone infected with an illness breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, releasing respiratory particles which can cause infection in another person
- through surfaces and belongings which can also be contaminated when people who are infected with an illness cough or sneeze near them or if they touch them, the next person to touch that surface may then become infected
Staying at home until you feel better reduces the risk that you will pass on an illness to your friends, colleagues, and others in your community. This will help reduce the burden on our health services.
Use the NHS COVID-19 app
Using the NHS COVID-19 app helps stop the spread of the virus by informing you that you have been in close contact with someone who has since tested positive for COVID-19, even if you do not know each other. You can also use it to check in to venues with an NHS QR code and receive advice if there has been an outbreak. The app is free and easy to use and doing so can help you protect your loved ones and others.
The app also allows people to report symptoms and order coronavirus tests. To help protect yourself and others, download and use the latest version of the NHS COVID-19 app.
Limit close contact with other people
When someone with COVID-19 breathes, speaks, coughs or sneezes, they release particles containing the virus that causes COVID-19. These particles can be breathed in by another person.
You may choose to limit the close contact you have with people you do not usually live with. You may also choose to take a lateral flow test before being in close contact and also encourage those people you are meeting with to do so, which will help to manage periods of risk. This includes close contact in a higher risk environment, or when spending prolonged periods of time with a vulnerable individual.
These are personal choices which can help reduce your risk of catching or spreading COVID-19. It is important to consider that others may wish to continue to take a more cautious approach. We should all be considerate of this and provide the opportunity and space for others to reduce close contacts if they wish.
Wash your hands regularly and cover coughs and sneezes
Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitiser regularly throughout the day. Regular hand washing is an effective way to reduce your risk of catching illnesses, including COVID-19.
It is particularly important to wash your hands:
- after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose
- before you eat or handle food
- after coming into contact with surfaces touched by many others, such as handles, handrails and light switches
- after coming into contact with shared areas such as kitchens and bathrooms
- when you return home
Where possible, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you do need to touch your face, for example to put on or take off your face covering, wash or sanitise your hands before and after.
Coughing and sneezing increases the number of droplets and aerosols released by a person, the distance they travel and the time they stay in the air. Covering coughs and sneezes will help reduce the spread of particles carrying COVID-19 and other viruses, including those that cause coughs and colds.
Understanding your personal risk in different settings and scenarios
If you were previously identified as clinically extremely vulnerable (CEV)
Following expert clinical advice and the successful rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine programme, people previously considered to be CEV are not being advised to shield again. If you were previously identified as CEV, you should continue to follow the guidance contained in this page. You should take advice from your health professional on whether additional precautions are right for you.
If you are pregnant
If you’re pregnant, your chance of getting COVID-19 is not higher than anyone else and it’s very unlikely you’ll get seriously ill with it.
As a minimum, you should follow the same guidance as everyone else. If you are more than 28 weeks pregnant, or if you are pregnant and have an underlying health condition that puts you at a greater risk of severe illness from COVID-19 at any point in pregnancy, you may want to consider limiting close contact with people you do not normally meet with regularly.
If you live in an area receiving an enhanced response to COVID-19
The government will work with local authorities in areas which need an enhanced response to COVID-19 to avoid the NHS facing unsustainable pressure. It is particularly important for people living in these areas to follow the guidance on this page which will help to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and to help protect yourself and others. Enhanced Response Areas will also receive additional targeted support, such as surge testing and logistical resources to maximise vaccine uptake, for a 5 week period.
There are currently no areas receiving an enhanced response to COVID-19. This is kept under regular review and this page will be updated if areas are added to this list.
Travelling in the UK and abroad
You must follow the rules for international travel. You should not travel to countries or territories on the red list.
Travelling to England from outside the UK
What you must do when you arrive in England from abroad depends on where you have been in the last 10 days before you arrive.
People planning to travel to England should follow the guidance on entering the UK.
Find out which list the country you are travelling from is on and what you need to do.
Travelling in the UK, Ireland and Channel Islands
There are no restrictions on travel within England.
You should check the rules at your destination if you’re planning to travel to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or to Ireland or the Channel Islands as there may be restrictions in place.
Businesses and venues
All businesses should follow the principles set out in the working safely guidance.
Employers still have a legal duty to manage risks to those affected by their business. The way to do this is to carry out a health and safety risk assessment, including the risk of COVID-19, and to take reasonable steps to mitigate the risks you identify. The working safely guidance sets out a range of mitigations employers should consider including:
- identifying poorly ventilated areas in the venue, for example by using a CO2 monitor, and taking steps to improve air flow in these areas
- ensuring that staff and customers who are unwell do not attend the workplace or venue
- providing hand sanitiser to enable staff and customers to clean their hands more frequently, and cleaning surfaces that people touch regularly
- communicating to staff and customers the measures you have put in place
Settings in which face coverings are required must display signage or take other measures to ensure customers are aware of the requirement to wear a face covering on their premises where there is no applicable exemption or reasonable excuse.
Businesses are also encouraged to continue displaying NHS QR codes for attendees wishing to check in using the NHS COVID-19 app so they are alerted if there’s an outbreak and can take action to protect others.