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Who has to self-isolate, which workers are exempt and what if I’m fully vaccinated?

Northern Ireland is the latest part of the UK to announce changes to self-isolation rules for fully vaccinated adults and children.

What rules are changing and when?

Double vaccinated adults and under-18s will no longer have to self isolate if they are identified as a close contact of someone with Covid (as long as they themselves have no symptoms).

These changes have already come into force in Scotland and Wales.

In England and Northern Ireland the new rules take effect from Monday 16 August.

Fully vaccinated adults and under-18s will be advised to take a PCR test – and can stop self-isolating if the result is negative. If the result is positive, they will need to self-isolate just like anyone else.

In Wales and Northern Ireland, people are also advised to take further PCR tests on day two and day eight.

And in England, people are advised to take extra measures like wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces and limiting contact with others, especially the clinically vulnerable.

It’s hoped easing the rules for children will mean fewer are off school.

Each UK nation has its own contact-tracing service:

England – NHS Test and Trace
Scotland – Test and Protect
Wales – Test, Trace, Protect
Northern Ireland – Contact tracing service

When do I need to self-isolate?

You still need to self-isolate for 10 days if you:

test positive for Covid-19
live with someone who tests positive
are approached by text, email or phone by contact tracers who identify you as a close contact of someone who has tested positive – adults who are not fully vaccinated will have to continue to do this
arrive in the UK from a red list country
arrive in the UK from an amber list country (under-18s and fully vaccinated people using the NHS Covid Pass in England and Wales, or equivalent schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, are exempt)
You must also self-isolate if you or someone you live with have Covid symptoms. You can stop self-isolating if the person with symptoms gets a negative PCR result.

What if I am ‘pinged’?

If you are “pinged” by the NHS Covid app you’re advised – but not legally obliged – to self-isolate.

The sensitivity of the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales has been tweaked to ensure that fewer people are advised to quarantine following close contact with a positive case.

The app will look for contacts encountered in the previous two days, rather than five, when someone without symptoms tests positive.

Which workers don’t need to self-isolate?

Until 16 August in England – when all fully vaccinated people will be exempt – employers providing critical services can request an exemption for named employees who are fully vaccinated.

The areas are:

Civil nuclear
Digital infrastructure
Food production and supply
Veterinary medicines
Essential chemicals
Essential transport
Medicines and medical devices
Clinical consumable supplies
Emergency services
Border control
Essential defence outputs
Local government
Supermarket depot workers and food manufacturers will be exempt whatever their vaccination status. Workers can do daily testing instead.

This is being extended to police, firefighters, Border Force staff, transport and freight workers, plus those working in prisons, waste, defence, veterinary medicine, energy, pharmaceuticals, telecoms, chemicals, communications, water, space and fish industries.

In total, 2,000 test sites will be opened, with employers and workers contacted by NHS Test and Trace about what they should do.

Frontline health and care staff who are fully vaccinated and identified as a close contact of someone with Covid follow a separate system. It allows some to go to work, subject to strict testing rules.

If you develop symptoms and test positive, you must isolate regardless of who your employer is.

What does self-isolation mean?

Self-isolation means staying at home and not going out for any reason.

You should order online groceries, or ask friends or family to help.

No-one from outside your household should come inside, unless to deliver essential care.

If you test positive and feel fine, but subsequently develop symptoms, you must restart your 10-day isolation.

If you have symptoms or test positive, you should:

Keep your distance from other members of your household
Leave windows open to improve ventilation
If possible, sleep and eat in a different room, and use a separate bathroom
If you share a bathroom, use it after everyone else and clean it thoroughly

Will I be paid if I have to self-isolate?

A £500 grant is available in England to people on low incomes who have to self-isolate. This includes parents who can’t work because their child has to self-isolate. It is a single payment to cover 10 days’ isolation.

In Scotland people can apply for the Self-Isolation Support Grant, worth £500. There is a similar scheme in Wales. In Northern Ireland, a discretionary payment is available.

You may also be entitled to Statutory Sick Pay, which is worth £96.35 a week. Employers with their own sick pay scheme will pay more.

How are the rules enforced?

Anyone who does not self-isolate could be fined. In England, fines start at £1,000 rising to £10,000.

However, there have been concerns about how many people follow the rules. Some studies have suggested fewer than 20% do so.

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