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Coronavirus Northern Ireland: Why are people testing positive again, what are the symptoms and can I be reinfected?


Covid cases have steadily rose across the UK in recent weeks (Credit: Peter Byrne)

Covid cases have steadily rose across the UK in recent weeks (Credit: Peter Byrne)


Covid cases have steadily rose across the UK in recent weeks (Credit: Peter Byrne)

Data from the Office of National Statistics has shown that one in 25 people in Northern Ireland tested positive for Covid-19 last week — an increase from one in 65 people last month.

As cases are rising at a steady rate once again, we take a look at the most common questions asked about the virus including how long you have to isolate for and how likely you are to be reinfected.

How many positive cases are there in Northern Ireland?

There were 262 positive cases of Covid-19 recorded on Sunday and 1,819 cases recorded this week.

Last month it is estimated that 27,700 people in Northern Ireland had Covid, however, fewer people are testing themselves.

Thankfully, fatalities have remained low relative to rising infections and although hospitalisations have seen an increase, they remain far below the original Omicron peak over Christmas.

Why are people testing positive again?

It’s believed the rise in cases is due to variants of Omicron, the variant which caused a spike in new cases again in late December.

The new variants are named BA.4 and BA.5.

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These were designated as “variants of concern” on May 18, but there is no suggestion at this time that either is more deadly than a typical variant.

Is there a difference in the variants and which one is worse?

Omicron marked a shift in the symptoms compared to previous variants, but there is currently no evidence to suggest that BA.4 and BA.5 cause more severe illness than previous variants, according to early research from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

It is also unclear whether BA.4 and BA.5 produce different symptoms, but scientists have not noted any changes yet.

What are the current symptoms of Covid-19?

The main symptoms are a new, continuous cough, high temperature or shivering, and a loss of taste and smell.

Are there any new symptoms I should be looking out for?

The symptoms haven’t changed much since the beginning of the pandemic, but it’s not just a cough and loss of taste/smell you need to look out for as a warning you may have the virus. 

Other symptoms of Covid-19 also include shortness of breath, feeling tired or exhausted, an aching body, a headache, a sore throat, a blocked or runny nose, loss of appetite, diarrhoea, and feeling sick or vomiting.

I already had Covid-19, how likely is it that I will be reinfected?

The rate of reinfection remains high. This is because every time a new variant develops, it changes in mutation which means your immunity is affected.

The rise in cases is down to two new variants (BA.4 and BA.5) which are mutations of Omicron, which itself is a variant. Omicron started to be dominant last Christmas and was responsible for a rising number in cases in the post-festive season.

Both BA.4 and BA.5 have now shown evidence of being able to evade the immunity from an original Omicron infection, according to experts.

According to the latest UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) analysis, BA.4 is growing around 19.1% faster than BA.2 while BA.5 is growing 35.1%. And each time the virus mutates, the likelihood of reinfection increases.

However, if you are reinfected, it’s reported Covid becomes progressively milder because of immunity developed by previous infections.

What’s the difference between a cold, the flu, and Covid?

All three are viruses that can affect your respiratory system, so it can be hard to tell them apart.

Some people who suffer from hayfever, which worsens in the summer months, may also experience similar symptoms.

The main difference is that Covid-19 is more infectious than the cold and flu and therefore you are advised to take a lateral flow test to ensure you know the difference. 

Does this mean my vaccine isn’t working?

The vaccine already provides a good level of protection from serious Covid-19 symptoms. But because variants are mutations, this means the vaccine needs to be updated as the virus is constantly evolving.

This is why there is a rollout in boosters, which effectively ‘tops up’ your vaccine’s ability to help protect you. 

Will I need to get another booster then?

The UK began a rollout of a fourth booster earlier this spring for elderly and vulnerable people. You should contact your health care provider if you believe you are eligible and haven’t been contacted.

For more information on booking your booster, visit — https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated/

I didn’t get the vaccine in the first place, can I still get it?

Anyone aged five years and over who is a resident of Northern Ireland is eligible to be vaccinated as part of the Covid-19 vaccination programme.

If you haven’t received any dose of the vaccine, you can still receive it through your GP or at a walk-in Trust clinic.

More information can be found here — https://covid-19.hscni.net/get-vaccinated/

If I test positive, how long do I have to isolate? 

If you have any of the above symptoms, you are advised to test yourself using a lateral flow test.

If your test is positive, the Department of Health advises you 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.

It’s no longer advised you ‘test to release’ (the now-outdated method which meant if you had two successive negative results, you could end your isolation earlier) and children can leave isolation after three days because they are ‘less infectious’.

If I test positive, can I still go out and attend work?

You should discuss your positive test result with your employer. There has never been any legal requirement to self-isolate in Northern Ireland, but the Department of Health strongly advised people to use their own judgement.

If you have symptoms and need to leave your home it’s advised you wear a face covering and avoid crowded places such as public transport, large social gatherings, or anywhere that is enclosed or poorly ventilated.

If cases are rising, why is isolation time being reduced from 10 days to five days? 

There has been confusion over the rising number of Covid-19 cases and the plans to reduce the advised length of time to isolate.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “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.”

Will I have to wear a face-covering or mask in shops again?

There is no legal requirement to wear a face-covering. However, it’s still strongly recommended by the UK Government.

I’ve never had Covid-19, does this mean I’m immune to it?

No. More than 60% of people in the UK have tested positive for Covid at least once, so you are very lucky if you’ve never picked up the virus.

However, it’s very likely you have had it at one point, and you could be asymptomatic, meaning you can still carry the virus but do not display symptoms.

For all the latest updated information concerning Covid-19 in Northern Ireland, please visit https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/campaigns/coronavirus-covid-19.

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