According to Government data, 139,272 people reported testing positive in England and Wales in the seven days up to 1 July – a 26.5 per cent increase on the week prior.
However, the real numbers are likely to be far higheras the Government is only tracking positive tests logged on its website, and the provision of free tests has ended.
The ZOE Covid studywhich has been collecting data throughout the pandemic, says there are currently about 325,000 new infections across the UK every day.
With cases rising, here’s what you need to know about Covid infection.
How long after Covid exposure will I test positive?
For previous variants of Covid-19, such as Alpha and Delta, 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.
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.”
Health Secretary Sajid Javid said in December, after Omicron emerged: “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.”
A recent study combined results from seven studies (taking in more than 1,300 lateral flow swab test results associated with time of disease onset) to create a model of the false negative rate for Covid over time since infection.
Their model suggests that in the first four days of infection (pre-symptomatic phase) the probability of a false negative in an infected person decreased from 100 per cent on day one (meaning a false negative was certain) to 67 per cent on day four .
It then decreased to 38 per cent on day five (the day of symptom onset) to a minimum of 20 per cent on day eight of infection (meaning one in five people still gave a false negative result despite having experienced three days of symptoms).
This means that by the time symptoms kick in, there is a roughly 62 per cent chance you will test positive. This rises to 80 per cent a few days into experiencing symptoms.
The NHS lists the following as official Covid-19 symptoms:
- High temperature or shivering (chills) – a high temperature means you feel hot to touch on your chest or back (you do not need to measure your temperature)
- New, continuous cough – this means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours
- Loss or change to your sense of smell or taste
- shortness of breath
- Feeling tired or exhausted
- Aching body
- sore throat
- Blocked or runny nose
- loss of appetite
- Feeling sick or being sick
How long does Covid typically last?
Most people with Covid-19 will feel better within a few days, with symptoms typically not lingering for more than a couple of weeks.
People who have been triple-vaccinated are less likely to experience severe symptoms, and may also recover quicker.
However, some people will experience what is known as long Covid. The NHS says the chances of having long-term symptoms does not seem to be linked to how ill you are when you first get the virus.
Symptoms of long Covid include:
- Extreme tiredness
- shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Problems with memory and concentration (“brain fog”)
- Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- heart palpitations
- pins and needles
- Bread seal
- Depression and anxiety
- Tinnitus, earaches
- Feeling sick, diarrhea, stomach aches, loss of appetite
- A high temperature, cough, headaches, sore throat, changes to sense of smell or taste
Contact a GP if you continue to experience symptoms several weeks after first testing positive for 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.
Tea 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.”
What should I do if I test positive?
The Covid advice differs depending on where you live in the UK.
Self-isolation is no longer a legal requirement in England, but the NHS advises that people infected with Covid-19 “should stay at home and avoid contact with other people” to help reduce the spread of the virus.
In particular, you should avoid being in close contact with people at higher risk from coronavirus, for example if they are elderly or have a weakened immune system, even if they have had the vaccine.
Infected people should try to work from home if they can.
“If you are unable to work from home, talk to your employer about options available to you,” Government advice states.
Positive cases should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of their test.
The Scottish Government recommends following the advice on NHS Inform.
If you test positive, you should stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day you took your test, or from the day your symptoms started (whichever was earlier).
If you have not tested positive, you should try to stay home until you feel better.
It is also recommended you take the following steps to keep others safe:
- Work from home if you can. If you can’t work from home, talk to your employer about your options
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is at higher risk, especially individuals with a weakened immune system, for 10 days
- If you’ve been asked to attend a medical or dental appointment in person, tell them about your symptoms
- You may wish to ask friends, family or neighbors to get food and other essentials for you
Wales is continuing to offer free lateral flow tests to people who have symptoms. You can order them here.
If you display Covid symptoms, you should self-isolate and order a test. Continue to self-isolate until you get your result.
Should the test be negative, you can leave isolation immediately.
If you test positive, you are advised to isolate for five full days, starting from the day after you took the test, and then take another test.
Should that test be negative, take another test the following day. If that test is also negative you can leave isolation.
If either test is positive continue isolating until you receive negative tests two days in a row, or until day 10, whichever is sooner.
The Northern Ireland Government advises people to isolate immediately if they have Covid symptoms or have tested positive.
If you display Covid symptoms you should self-isolate and order a test. Continue to self-isolate until you get your result.
If the test is negative you can leave isolation immediately.
If you test positive you are advised to isolate for five full days, starting from the day after you took the test, and then take another test.
If that test is negative, take another test the following day. If that test is also negative you can leave isolation.
If either test is positive, continue isolating until you receive negative tests two days in a row, or until day 10, whichever is sooner.