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Covid-19 Northern Ireland: symptoms update, testing, and what should I do if I have to self-isolate?


A lateral flow test. Image: PA

A lateral flow test. Image: PA

A lateral flow test. Image: PA

Record numbers of people have been self-isolating with the Omicron variant of coronavirus over recent weeks and a leading doctor has provided updated advice on the most common symptoms.

In the last 14 days, 91,453 people have tested positive with Covid as a staggering 572,783 tests were carried out in the same period.

Previously, a high temperature, a new, continuous cough and a change in taste or smell were the most common signs of Covid but that is no longer the case with Omicron as the dominant strain.

Dr Alan Stout, BMA NI GP committee chair, said: “The main symptoms of the new variant Omicron can differ from what we saw in the first wave of the pandemic. What we are seeing now is patients presenting with a sore or scratchy feeling throat, mild headache, sneezing and a runny nose.

Coronavirus Data Graphs

“We are not seeing as many people – either adults or children – experiencing high temperatures or fever. For the most case, these symptoms can be managed at home with a mix of paracetamol or ibuprofen, basically over-the-counter medicine you can get from a pharmacist.”

The transmissibility of Omicron has prompted the government to change testing and isolation guidelines.

As of January 5, people in Northern Ireland who get a positive lateral flow test no longer need a PCR test to confirm that result.

In the event of a positive lateral flow test, the public has been advised to assume they have Covid and that you are infectious and report it on the gov.uk website.

The earliest a period of self-isolation can end is on day seven - providing lateral flow tests on day six and seven are both negative and the individual does not have a high temperature.

Day six and day seven lateral flow tests should be at least 24 hours apart. If either is positive, isolation should continue until two negative lateral flow tests taken 24 hours apart are achieved, or after the individual has completed 10 full days of isolation – whichever is earlier.

Anyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable and particularly immunocompromised, they should still get a polymerase chain reaction (PCR), also known as a laboratory test, even with a positive lateral flow test (LFT), to ensure that they are then offered the potential for additional treatment as soon as possible, in order to prevent more serious illness, Dr Stout explained.

He continued: “For anyone who doesn’t have an underlying condition, what they need to look out for in terms of getting worse would be shortness of breath, a tight feeling in their chest where they are unable to draw a deep breath in.

“Many people have also bought pulse-oximeters which measure the level of oxygen in the blood. They are maybe not as accurate as the ones in hospital but if you do have one and your reading drops below 90% then it might be time to think about getting further help.

“We are still contacted by patients seeking help and reassurance when they test positive for Covid. While fortunately this variant does seem milder, and we have many more people vaccinated which helps prevent serious illness or hospitalisation, there are still some people who do feel very unwell and we would encourage them to seek help if they need it.”

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