Public Health Advice For Those With Symptoms of Respiratory Infection

4th July 2022

Covid-19 testing and isolation guidance, and public health advice for those with symptoms of respiratory infection  

In April 2022, Minister Swann announced a step change to testing with the removal of asymptomatic testing for the general population. Indicative timescales outlined in the Department of Health’s Test, Trace and Protect Transition Plan  also prepared for the removal of symptomatic testing for the general population on or before the 30 June 2022. The Transition Plan stipulated that the testing policy would be kept under review during the period up to the end of June.

It is clear that after a period of reducing prevalence we are now seeing a rise in Covid-19 again across Northern Ireland. Whilst prevalence continues to be relatively high, thankfully the overall risk of serious illness, hospitalisation and death for those who contract COVID-19 is much lower than during previous waves. This has been the case for a number of months now and is due in large part to the delivery of our hugely successful vaccination and booster programme, and the continuing availability and use of innovative antiviral treatments.

Having considered the current data and prevalence of COVID-19, as a precautionary measure, Minister Swann has today announced an extension to current lateral flow testing availability for a further month up to the end of July.

Further details are set out here in Written Ministerial Statement; DoH Press Release Availability of Covid-19 lateral flow testing is extended | Department of Health (; and at NI Direct:


Updated advice for those with a positive COVID-19 test result

Adults with a positive coronavirus test result will be advised to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days after the day of the test, or from the day symptoms started. As children tend to be less infectious than adults, this period is reduced to three days for children under 18 years of age.

As a precautionary measure, while people are no longer advised to self-isolate for 10 days, they should avoid contact with individuals who are at higher risk from COVID for the full 10 days – especially individuals with a weakened immune system – to make sure that you are no longer infectious. They should also avoid visiting others in care homes, hospitals and other health and social care settings. They should also continue to take precautions such as wearing a face mask, particularly in crowded indoor places, practice good respiratory hygiene and regularly washing their hands.

Testing to end isolation is no longer advised.

This updated advice for positive COVID cases seeks to strike the right balance at this stage of the pandemic between reducing transmission, protecting the vulnerable and mitigating the disruption caused by longer periods of isolation. The reducing risk to the general population, high levels of vaccination and the availability of COVID-19 treatments for eligible groups enable us to reduce the self-isolation period and remove the need for a negative test to release from isolation.


Full details on the updated isolation advice is outlined on NI Direct:


All measures will continue to be kept under review.


Symptoms of respiratory illness including COVID-19

The clinical presentation and symptoms of COVID-19 have changed significantly since the start of the pandemic. The three cardinal symptoms associated with COVID-19 – cough, temperature and loss of smell and taste – were the symptoms that best predicted that an individual had COVID-19 at earlier stages in the pandemic, although we have always advised that there were other symptoms of COVID-19. Currently, the most common symptoms of Covid-19 are similar to other respiratory viruses such as flu.

As such, public health advice for those with symptoms of respiratory illness will move away from a focus on the three cardinal symptoms associated with COVID, and will instead now focus on the wider group of symptoms associated with a range of respiratory viruses, including COVID-19, and on responsible behaviours for those with symptoms.

The wider list of symptoms of respiratory infections including COVID-19 are:

  • continuous cough
  • high temperature, fever or chills
  • loss of, or change in, your normal sense of taste or smell
  • shortness of breath
  • unexplained tiredness, lack of energy
  • muscle aches or pains that are not due to exercise
  • not wanting to eat or not feeling hungry
  • headache that is unusual or longer lasting than usual
  • sore throat, stuffy or runny nose
  • diarrhoea, feeling sick or being sick

Those who test positive for COVID-19 should stay at home in line with the updated isolation guidance set out above.

However, someone with a negative COVID-19 test result may still have a respiratory virus infection which can spread and cause illness in others. Even with a negative COVID test result, public health advice continues to be that individuals with a high temperature or who have respiratory symptoms and do not feel well enough to go to work or carry out normal activities, are strongly advised to stay at home and minimise contact with others until they are well in order to help avoid spreading illness. They are advised to work from home if possible and to talk to their employer about options if this is not feasible. They should also continue to take precautions such as wearing a face mask, particularly in crowded indoor places and regularly washing their hands. People should particularly avoid contact with those considered vulnerable and should not visit others in health and social care settings if they have a temperature or are feeling unwell with symptoms of respiratory illness.

This is the advice for all people with symptoms of respiratory infections, not just COVID-19.

Further detail of the list of symptoms of respiratory viruses including COVID-19 and what to do should you develop symptoms can be found on NI Direct.


Contact Tracing undertaken by the Public Health Agency

In line with the Test, Trace and Protect Transition Plan, contact tracing for the general population has been phased out over the past couple of months. The Public Health Agency’s Contact Tracing Service has stood down from 30 June 2022.

Minister Swann has again thanked all staff who have worked in the Contact Tracing Service over the past two challenging years for their exceptional professionalism and dedication, and for the public who engaged with the Service and complied with the guidance.

The Public Health Agency will retain the ability to deliver a proportionate testing and contact tracing response in the future should there be a significant outbreak, wave or emergence of a new variant.

See here for some further detail