Coronavirus: 5 things you should know about Covid-19 ahead of winter including what to do if you test positive

Here’s what you need to know about Covid ahead of winter in the UK amid a surge in cases of a new strain, Pirola.
Here’s what you need to know about Covid ahead of winter in the UK amid a surge in cases of a new strain, Pirola.

As the cold season approaches, it is critical to remain vigilant for signs of Covid-19. The pandemic, which began in late 2019, is still affecting communities around the world especially with the emergence of the latest variant, Pirola, or BA.2.86 variant, which has seen an increase in cases in the UK since summer.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) confirmed 34 cases of Pirola in England, as of September 4. Five people have been hospitalised but no deaths have been reported. Of the 34 cases, 28 were from a single outbreak at a care home in Norfolk.

The other six cases were located in the east of England, London, and northwest England. Meanwhile, two cases of Pirola have also been reported in Scotland, according to Public Health Scotland.

Here’s what you need to know about Covid ahead of winter in the UK amid a surge in cases of a new strain, Pirola.
Here’s what you need to know about Covid ahead of winter in the UK amid a surge in cases of a new strain, Pirola.

However, UKHSA said it is “too early” to draw conclusions on whether the current variant is more aggressive or serious than past variants as there is currently not enough data to conclude what the extent of the transmission might be.

Dr Renu Bindra, Incident Director, UKHSA said: “While BA.2.86 has a significant number of mutations to the viral genome compared to other currently circulating COVID-19 variants, the data so far is too limited to draw firm conclusions about the impact this will have on the transmissibility, severity or immune escape properties of the virus.

“UKHSA scientists are working with international partners to culture the samples and analyse the evidence as it becomes available. However, it is likely to be some time before we have enough data to make a confident assessment.

“It is clear that there is some degree of widespread community transmission, both in the UK and globally, and we are working to ascertain the full extent of this. In the meantime, it remains vital that all those eligible come forward to receive their autumn vaccine as soon as it is offered to them.”

In the wake of the new variant, the government recently announced that the vaccine rollout would be earlier than planned on Monday, September 11 as a precautionary measure and people eligible for a booster jab this autumn are encouraged to come forward.

But, what else do you need to do if you test positive for covid? Here’s five things you need to know in order to stay informed and proactive to navigate the challenges that winter may bring amid potential outbreaks.

How long will I test positive for Covid after having it?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some tests, especially PCR tests, may continue to show a positive result for up to 90 days. Reinfections can occur within 90 days, which can make it hard to know if a positive test indicates a new infection.

Do I still have to isolate if I test positive for Covid?

According to research by Imperial College London, two thirds of 57 people surveyed were still infectious five days after their symptoms began, and one quarter were still infectious at seven days.

However, at the time of publication, NHS guidance suggests that people should try to stay at home and avoid contact with others for just five days. While there is no longer a legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive for COVID-19, many people still want to isolate themselves until they are not infectious.

Am I still contagious after 10 days if I still have symptoms?

Although many people will no longer be infectious to others after five days, some people may be infectious to other people for up to 10 days from the start of their infection, says NHS Inform. 

If you have a high temperature or still feel unwell after the five days, try to coninue staying at home. Do this until you feel well enough to go back to normal activities or no longer have a high temperature (if you had one).

How soon after exposure are you contagious?

A study by Harvard University says people are thought to be most contagious early in the course of their illness. With Omicron, most transmission appears to occur during the one to two days before onset of symptoms, and in the two to three days afterwards. People with no symptoms can also spread the virus to others.

Who can get a covid jab?

According to the NHS website, only children aged six months to four years old who are at increased risk of getting seriously ill from Covid can currently get a Covid vaccine.

You may be able to get a seasonal Covid vaccine in autumn 2023 if you’re at increased risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. For example, this may be due to a health condition or your age - government advice states people at greatest risk of serious illness from Covid, including care home residents, over 65s and frontline health and social care workers.

The NHS will contact you if your NHS record suggests you may be eligible.

If you develop a new health condition or start treatment that severely weakens your immune system, your specialist may advise you to get a Covid vaccine sooner. Speak to your specialist for more information.