Symptoms and testing
Common symptoms for Coronavirus are if you have either:
- A high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
- A new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly
- Anosmia – a loss or change in your normal sense of smell, which can also affect your sense of taste)
- Do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital.
- You do not need to contact 111 to tell them you’re staying at home.
- Testing for coronavirus is not needed if you’re staying at home.
Tests for COVID-19 will only be done on those who are admitted to hospital because they are critically ill. For everyone else with symptoms the advice is to self-isolate (stay at home) for 7 days.
There is currently no specific treatment for COVID-19, beyond treatment to relieve symptoms – i.e. it cannot currently be vaccinated against or cured.
Antibiotics do not help, as they do not work against viruses.
- Drink water to keep yourself hydrated.
- Use over the counter medications, such as paracetamol to help with some of your symptoms. Make sure you follow manufacturer’s instructions and do not exceed the recommended dose.
You should get tested in the first three days of coronavirus symptoms appearing, although testing is considered effective up until day five.
There are two ways to get a coronavirus test: going to a testing centre or getting a test kit delivered to your home.
Testing for all symptomatic individuals in Northern Ireland can be booked at www.nhs.uk/ask-for-a-coronavirus-test
In Northern Ireland, the following groups of people can access priority testing:
- essential workers;
- anyone who has symptoms of coronavirus and lives with an essential worker.
Essential workers and those who live with an essential worker can arrange a test here.
If you have questions about a test you’ve booked you can call 119.
Testing for essential workers and the general public is currently conducted in fixed drive-through sites operating at:
- SSE test centre, Odyssey Car park, Belfast BT3 9QQ
- Derry/Londonderry site: The LYCRA Company Car park, near The Rec Club. (Approach using A2 Clooney Road from ‘Maydown Roundabout’ towards Coleraine / Limavady following E-signs
- Craigavon MOT centre, Craigavon, BT63 5RY
- St Angelo Airport, 62 Killadeas Road, Trory, Enniskillen BT94 2FP
All centres are open 9.30am – 5.30pm, seven days a week
Booking can be made for morning test slots from 6pm the previous day. Afternoon booking slots are released at 10am on the day of testing.
In addition to the four fixed sites, mobile testing units operate across Northern Ireland.
Mobile testing units provide a temporary testing site that can be set up quickly in response to local demand. The mobile testing units are currently at:
- Lough Moss Leisure Centre Hillsborough Road, Belfast, BT8 8HR
- Ballymena Showgrounds, Warden Street, Ballymena, BT43 7DR
- Dobbin Centre Car Park, Dobbin Street Lane, Armagh, BT61 7QL
- Newry Leisure Centre, 60 Cecil St, Newry BT35 6AU
- Marks Arena, Antrim Forum (Lough Road, Antrim, BT41 4DQ)
- St. Johns Hall, 3 Lurgan Rd, Crumlin, BT29 4QA
The mobile testing units are open from 10.30am to 3.30pm and can be booked through the normal booking channels. You will see the locations across Northern Ireland as you book a test or alternatively ask staff if you call 119.
Personal Protective Equipment
If neither the care worker nor the individual receiving care and support is symptomatic, then no personal protective equipment is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices. (RQIA)
General interventions may include increased cleaning activity to reduce risk of retention of the virus on hard surfaces, and keeping property properly ventilated by opening windows whenever safe and appropriate.
Public Health England has issued guidance setting out the appropriate PPE equipment that should be used when dealing with COVID-19 here.
It is important to note the updated advice that, where staff are in close contact with a patient who is symptomatic but not confirmed to have COVID-19 and is not undergoing one of the aerosol generating procedures (AGPs) listed at paragraph 5.4 of the PHE guidance, they do not need to wear a FFP3 respirator mask but should wear a fluid resistant surgical facemask. It should be noted that administration of medication via nebulisation is not an AGP. You can see the section on Home Care Provision for further information on care workers.
At Risk Groups
Diseases and conditions seen to be very high risk include:
- Solid organ transplant recipients
- People with specific cancers
- People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer
- People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
- People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer – – People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
- People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
- People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
- People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
- People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection
- People who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired
Increased risk groups – i.e. those who should follow self-isolation and social distancing measures very strictly – include those who are:
- aged 70 or older (regardless of medical conditions)
- under 70 with an underlying health condition listed below (ie anyone instructed to get a flu jab as an adult each year on medical grounds):
- chronic (long-term) respiratory diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema or bronchitis
- chronic heart disease, such as heart failure
- chronic kidney disease
- chronic liver disease, such as hepatitis
- chronic neurological conditions, such as Parkinson’s disease, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), a learning disability or cerebral palsy
- problems with your spleen – for example, sickle cell disease or if you have had your spleen removed
- a weakened immune system as the result of conditions such as HIV and AIDS, or medicines such as steroid tablets or chemotherapy
- being seriously overweight (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or above)
- those who are pregnant
Please seek help if you have any concerns about you and your baby’s health. Don’t just wait and see or think it’s nothing important.
Pregnant women do not appear to be more severely unwell if they develop coronavirus than the general population. As this is a new virus, how it may affect you is not yet clear.
It is expected the large majority of pregnant women will experience only mild or moderate cold/flu like symptoms.
If you are pregnant you are more vulnerable to getting infections than a woman who is not pregnant. If you have an underlying condition, such as asthma or diabetes, you may be more unwell if you have coronavirus.
If you show symptoms or test positive for coronavirus, you should contact your midwife or antenatal team to make them aware of your diagnosis. If you have no symptoms, or mild symptoms, you will be advised to recover at home. If you have more severe symptoms, you might be treated in a hospital setting.
The PHA has launched new website http://www.ni-maternity.com
This website provides you with the most up to date information on maternity services in your area, resources including virtual antenatal and postnatal education classes, and explains how COVID-19 may affect you.
You should follow the advice given by the hospital or care setting you are visiting. People in their care may be at particular risk because of underlying health conditions so they may need to restrict visiting.
Unless and until there is a direction to close all homes to visitors, this is a decision for each
individual home to take. This is not as simple as minimising the risk of transmission of the virus. We know that care home residents and their families and friends really value the visits to and from their loved ones and to stop them suddenly may have an adverse effect on their emotional wellbeing. Each home will look at the risks and benefits and make a decision on the weight of the evidence they have.
Yes. All health and social care professionals will continue their work in care homes. They will take all necessary precautions such as using protective equipment to minimise the risks of spreading the virus.
All homes have plans to manage their business should an emergency occur. They have been asked to revise these plans to make sure they are fit for the current situation. Should homes suffer a high volume of staff absence that can’t be covered for example through an agency; Trusts will be asked to provide additional support.
Home care provisions
Provision of care and support in people’s home is a high priority service, in that most care and support cannot be deferred to another day without putting individuals at risk of harm. It is therefore vital that these services are prioritised.
Home care providers will routinely be procuring personal protective equipment (PPE) such as gloves and aprons. In addition, there will be a free issue of PPE to support adult social care providers (residential care and domiciliary care) to comply with the updated advice on use of PPE to support management of symptomatic patients presenting in these settings. This will be issued from the pandemic influenza stockpile. Arrangements will be put in place for adult social care providers to access further PPE as necessary.
If the individual receiving care and support has symptoms of COVID-19, then the risk of transmission should be minimised through safe working procedures:
Personal protective equipment
Care workers should use personal protective equipment (PPE) for activities that bring them into close personal contact, such as washing and bathing, personal hygiene and contact with bodily fluids.
Aprons, gloves and fluid repellent surgical masks should be used in these situations. If there is a risk of splashing, then eye protection will minimise risk.
New personal protective equipment must be used for each episode of care. It is essential that personal protective equipment is stored securely within disposable rubbish bags.
These bags should be placed into another bag, tied securely and kept separate from other waste within the room. This should be put aside for at least 72 hours before being put in the usual household waste bin.
If the individual being cared for and their worker can remain at a safe protected distance from the symptomatic member of the household, then care can be provided without additional precaution. This would apply, for example, where the symptomatic family member can remain in their own room, is using separate bathroom facilities and is observing robust isolation procedures, staying 2 metres away from other family members.
Where this is not possible – and this will vary on a case-by-case basis – the same procedures should be adopted as if the person being cared for did have symptoms of COVID-19 (see above). Care should continue to be taken to limit contact with any household member that has symptoms.
If neither the care worker, nor the individual receiving care and support, is symptomatic, then no personal protective equipment is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices.
General interventions may include increased cleaning activity and keeping property properly ventilated by opening windows whenever safe and appropriate.
It is aimed at local authorities, clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), community health services and providers of care and support delivered within supported living environments (people in their own homes), including for people with mental health conditions, learning disabilities or autistic adults.
The Independent Living Fund Scotland have provided a letter template for personal assistants in both Scotland and Northern Ireland. This can be downloaded and the individuals name added.
Here is the letter:
In general if care is being provided by an external provider, the provider must source and provide the PPE.
We recommend that should you have queries around this you contact your Social worker, or you can call us on 0800 917 0222 to discuss further.
Self Directed Support (SDS) / Direct Payments
Each Trust has developed their own protocol for PPE for Direct Payment (DP) recipients and carers, but in general if care is being provided by an external provider, the provider must source and provide the PPE.
If the DP recipient requires PPE for a PA then he/she should contact the Trust Key worker and request PPE; this should be provided (where available) to the DP recipient at no cost.
If resources are not available through the Trust, a DP recipient may purchase PPE out of their Personal Budget fund, without prior Trust approval, record and report associated costs under normal DP practices.
Carers and recipients of direct payments are encouraged to contact ILF Scotland, which is providing support to Northern Ireland, with any queries
It is important that everyone only orders the medicines they require. Stockpiling or purchasing medication that is not needed could disadvantage other patients or put them at risk.
Actions are also being taken to help protect both pharmacy staff and members of the public visiting pharmacies. These actions will aim to keep community pharmacies open and enable pharmacy teams to respond proactively as the situation develops.
Profiteering during the current challenging situation by inflating prices of shortage products risks bringing the profession into disrepute. We are reminding pharmacy owners and pharmacy professionals that they need to continue meeting our standards at all times during the pandemic. We do however recognise that shortages can engender increases with suppliers and distributors of products – if you are concerned you should take the matter up with your pharmacy in the first instance.
Do not go into a pharmacy, GP or hospital if you or someone you live with has coronavirus symptoms (high temperature or a new, continuous cough). You can ask someone else to collect your medicines for you, or order online.
As a community of caregivers for oncology and haematology patients in Northern Ireland we are well aware of the increased anxiety generated by the Covid 19 pandemic during what is already a very difficult time for you. Whilst disruption is inevitable, we wish to assure you that we are working very hard to maintain services in so far as possible. Our first priority is your safety. We know that Covid 19 is likely to be more severe in those with a cancer diagnosis. This is particularly so in older patients and those with additional medical conditions. As a result, many of our anti-cancer treatments which suppress the immune system and affect your general health may have significantly greater risk at this time.
At your next consultation, your doctor or nurse will discuss the benefits and risks of proceeding with treatment. They may suggest stopping treatment or making significant alterations to reduce the risk. Any decision about your treatment will be based on your individual circumstances and our ability to provide safe care in the weeks and months ahead. No decision about your treatment will be made without involving you in this. As time goes on we anticipate that additional pressure on the service will come from staff shortages. We are actively looking at novel ways to reduce the impact of this on cancer treatment however there will inevitably be disruption to our service over the next few weeks and months.
Your clinician may want to review your treatment plans, including whether the risks involved in any treatment have changed. In some cases, this may lead to a discussion about a revised or modified treatment plan. This is because the risks and benefits of certain treatments may be different in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19) risk.
Many hospitals have started to use more telephone consultations as a way of helping people to avoid long waits in clinics and for treatment. You may be called to arrange your treatments in this way, and planned treatments may need to be moved to help with running a smooth service.
Your clinical team are best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatment and appointments. They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each individual situation. If you have any concerns or questions about your treatment, please speak to your clinical team.
The advice in this situation is to immediately contact the chemotherapy care line, the Acute Oncology Service at your treating hospital or whatever number you were given by your team in the event of an urgent query. The important thing is to get urgent medical advice.
There are currently no medicine shortages as a result of COVID-19. The country is well prepared to deal with any impacts of the coronavirus and we have stockpiles of generic drugs like paracetamol in the event of any supply issues.
The Government is working closely with industry, the NHS and others in the supply chain to ensure patients can access the medicines they need, and precautions are in place to prevent future shortages.
There is no need for patients to change the way they order prescriptions or take their medicines. Patients should always follow the advice of doctors, pharmacists or other prescribers who prescribe and dispense their medicines and medical products. The NHS has tried-and-tested ways of making sure patients receive their medicines and medical products, even under difficult circumstances. If patients order extra prescriptions, or stockpile, it will put pressure on stocks, meaning that some patients may not get the medicines or medical products they need.
Your clinical team are best placed to talk with you about the effect on your treatment and appointments. They will work with you to determine the best course of action in each individual situation.
Caring for people with Cancer
The Government is currently advising that if you have symptoms and you live with a vulnerable person, you should try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days.
It is also a good idea to think about what happens if you become unwell. If you need help with care but you’re not sure who to contact, or if you do not have family or friends who can help, you can contact your local council who should be able to help you. Carers UK have also produced advice for those currently caring for others.
It is important that the extremely vulnerable person follows the measures to shield themselves. You should consider all other arrangements for yourself (for example living arrangements etc.) to enable them to.
Delayed, Postponed or Cancelled Treatment
Health service activity across Northern Ireland will unfortunately have to be significantly curtailed as resources are diverted to care for coronavirus patients.
Affected services will include non-urgent outpatient appointments, day cases, inpatient and diagnostic work. Due to increased pressures on GPs during the Covid-19 outbreak, the Department of Health and the British Medical Association have agreed measures to release additional capacity in General Practice. This will mean that GPs will prioritise work to address Covid-19 cases and practices may reduce certain services.
Health Minister Robin Swann stated “We have now started freeing up resources in our health service to provide hospital care for the most seriously ill Covid-19 patients.”
Currently, only non-urgent outpatients, day case, inpatient and diagnostic services will be reduced. Suspect cancer cases and other urgent care will continue, unless advised by the applicable Trust.
For patients who need follow up as outpatients, Trusts are planning for greater use of telephone contact and other digital technology, where appropriate. Patients will be contacted directly by Trusts with regard to any changes to already scheduled appointments.
If you have an urgent dental care need, or need advice about your personal oral health needs, you should contact your dental practice in the first instance.
Dental practices are beginning to reopen. The priority with all dental practices will be to ensure public and patient safety:
- Whilst observing social distancing, you should continue to telephone or email your practice, rather than attending in person without an appointment.
- Your practice will look different as it will be operating in a way that observes COVID-19 social distancing and hygiene rules, as part of measures taken to ensure your safety and that of the dental team
- The range of treatments you will be offered may be different. This will depend on the staff and equipment available to the team at the time.
- The dental team may also be wearing different protective equipment to what you are used to seeing.
- It will likely be some months before the services return to providing care in a similar manner to that which you previously experienced and will be dependent on the further easing of COVID-19 control measures.
Deaf Service Users
The Belfast Trust has moved to the use of telephone for appointments, consultations and essential information provision since the outbreak and spread of COVID-19. However, this presents challenges and risk for people who are deaf and who use sign language to communicate.
A temporary remote interpreting service from Sign Solutions has been commissioned and is provided through Interpreters Live to empower d/Deaf people to access and communicate with Health and Social Care Services via telephone due to the current public health guidance on social distancing and minimising risk of infection to sign language interpreters. It is being funded by the Department for Communities.
For further information please see: http://www.belfasttrust.hscni.net/about/3276.htm
Guidance for this situation exists here.
The main messages are:
- hostels and day centres do not need to close at the current time unless directed to do so by Public Health England (PHE) or the government
- frequently clean and disinfect regularly touched objects and surfaces using your standard cleaning products
- if a member of staff becomes unwell on site with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home
- if a resident in a hostel becomes unwell, they should stay in their room
- if someone becomes unwell in a day centre, and they do not have a home or room in which to self-isolate, they should be isolated temporarily in an area of the day centre and staff are advised to contact the local authority
- staff, residents and visitors should be reminded to wash their hands for 20 seconds, more frequently and catch coughs and sneezes in tissues
- local authority public health, housing and social care teams are encouraged to work closely together to identify appropriate local solutions for people who don’t have anywhere to self-isolate. The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) intends to issue a further communication to local authorities on this in due course
Further advice for employers/ employees regarding COVID-19 can be found here: https://www.acas.org.uk/coronavirus
For employers or self-employed people who want to prepare for returning to the workplace, NI Business Info provides guidance on workplace hygiene/infection control, social distancing and PPE – see here and here.
Labour Relations Agency, which provides advice and help for workers, employers, employers’ associations, trade unions and other organisations or individuals on matters about employment practices and employment relations in Northern Ireland
- 03300 552 220 (for queries about conciliation, mediation and arbitration)
- 03300 555 300 (for general queries about employment rights)