Symptoms and testing

What are the symptoms of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and what should I do if I show symptoms?

Common symptoms for Coronavirus are if you have either:

  1. A high temperature – you feel hot to touch on your chest or back
  2. A new, continuous cough – this means you’ve started coughing repeatedly
  • 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.

Can I get tested at the Covid-19 Primary Care Centres?

COVID-19 Centres are GP-led centres and are currently operating in Londonderry/Derry, Belfast, Dungannon and Banbridge. Further centres will open later this week in Antrim, Coleraine, Newtownards, Lisburn, Downpatrick and Enniskillen.

Covid-19 centres are not testing facilities. They are only for patients who are unwell, are suspected of having Covid-19 and require medical attention. Patients will not be able to report directly to these centres without being referred by their GP or Out of Hours provider.

Is there any treatment for COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

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.

You should:

  • 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.
Can/should I be going to work?

For those who are unsure whether they can or must go to work under the government’s directions of 23rd March, we advise that they consult the government-issued list of ‘key workers’ – – and/or discuss with their employer.


The guidelines for staying at home if you are displaying symptoms of coronavirus are different to the current (23rd March) directives for the general/healthy population.

If you need help, but you’re not sure who to contact, the Executive is setting up a Freephone community helpline for all citizens to provide access to advice, help and guidance.  It will also connect people to more specialist or practical supports in their local area.

To get in touch for advice you can phone, email or text message, the service will initially be available daily from 9am to 5pm.

Telephone: 0808 802 0020
Text: ACTION to 81025.

What does self-isolation mean?

You should:

  • stay at home
  • stay in touch with others over the phone or through social media
  • ask friends or family members to bring you things you need such as medication or use delivery services for shopping but make sure these are left outside your home for you to collect
  • separate yourself from others with the door closed or stay at least 2 metres (about 3 steps) away from people in your home
  • stay away from vulnerable individuals such as the elderly and those with underlying conditions as much as possible
  • stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened to keep clean air moving
  • sleep alone, if possible
  • clean toilets/bathrooms after your use if you share them with others (eg wiping surfaces you have come into contact with every time)
  • wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water
  • use separate towels at all times from others in the household

You should not:

  • go to work, school or public areas
  • go out for a walk unless you have access to your own garden
  • use public transport or taxis
  • invite visitors into your home
  • share towels, bedding or eating utensils and dishes, cups or glasses.
Do I need to see my GP or be tested before I self-isolate (stay at home)?

You do not need to contact or see your GP before self-isolating, but you should contact your GP if:

  • your symptoms worsen
  • you are no better after 7 days
  • you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home

In a medical emergency if you need to call an ambulance you should dial 999, and make sure you say that you have symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

How long should I self-isolate for?

Northern Ireland now has full access to the NHS 111 helpline service on COVID-19 – should you be very concerned by your condition however the guidance currently is:

  • If you have symptoms, stay at home for 7 days after the onset of symptoms
  • If you have symptoms and live with other people, they should stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person got symptoms (new advice as of 16 March)

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to find somewhere else for them to stay for 14 days. If you have to stay at home together, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.

Once you feel better and no longer have a high temperature you can return to your normal routine. Your cough may persist but a cough alone doesn’t mean you must self-isolate for more than 7 days. If your symptoms have not improved after 7 days and you haven’t already sought medical advice, please follow the guidance here.

Personal Protective Equipment

Should I use a facemask?

Facemasks play a very important role in places like hospitals, but there is very little evidence of benefit for members of the public. However, if you receive external care you may be asked to wear a mask to minimise risk to your carer.

I am concerned about a care worker not wearing a mask/appropriate PPE

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.

At Risk Groups

Am I recognised to be at increased risk of COVID-19, and am I to be particularly stringent in following social distancing measures?

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):
I am pregnant, should I be concerned?

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.

What support exists for me in the community?

You can contact the Covid-19 Community Helpline.
If you need help, but you’re not sure who to contact, the Executive is setting up a Freephone community helpline for all citizens to provide access to advice, help and guidance.
It will also connect people to more specialist or practical supports when those are needed.

To get in touch for advice you can phone, email or text message, the service will initially be available daily from 9am to 5pm and will expand in the coming days.

Telephone: 0808 802 0020
Text: ACTION to 81025.

Care Homes

If I don’t have symptoms can I still visit my relative in a care home/ hospital?

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.

Why have all care homes not closed to visitors?

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.

If visits are restricted will residents still receive care from visiting professionals?

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.

What if there are serious shortages of staff or supplies to the home?

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.


My relative is being discharged and I believe it to be premature

The Health and Social Care board have announced the following guidance as of Monday 16th March.

Timely discharge from hospitals will be essential as our health service deals with escalating pressures from Covid 19. The co-operation of patients and their families on discharge will help free up beds during this extremely challenging time.

  • If patients are deemed medically fit by the Consultant to go home, they and their families should ensure there are arrangements in place to be picked up promptly on the day of discharge. Ward staff can help you make these arrangements.
  • If you are deemed medically fit by the Consultant to go home and are waiting on a residential placement, staff will allocate the first place that is available. This may not necessarily be your first choice but it is important to note that people can subsequently move to the home of their choice, once it becomes available.
  • If you are deemed medically fit by the Consultant to go home, and there is a delay in sourcing new or additional home care, you may be discharged to await these elements of your care package. Additional family support may be required until the home care package is finalised.”
Visiting guidelines for individual Trusts

In response to the COVID 19 pandemic, the Government restriction of movements and to protect patients, their families and all staff, the HSC are temporarily restricting the number of visitors across hospitals.
With immediate effect all visits to general hospitals has now stopped. Whilst there are some exceptions to this these restrictions are subject to further review.
The ONLY exceptions to this are:

  • PAEDIATRICS: Any children admitted can be accompanied by one parent or carer at a time.
  • MATERNITY: A person in labour can be accompanied by one birthing partner. There are no visitors permitted in ante-natal or post-natal ward areas.
  • NEONATOLOGY & PAEDIATRIC Intensive Care: A patient in the neonatal ward/ paediatric ICU may be accompanied by one parent-visit duration to be agreed with the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse.
  • CRITICAL CARE AREAS (including Adult Intensive Care Units; Coronary Care Units; High Dependency Units) One visitor permitted to visit. The duration and timing of the visit must be agreed in advance with the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse-normally be a maximum of one hour.
  • PALLIATIVE (end of life) care: One visitor permitted to visit-duration and timing of the visit must be agreed in advance with the Ward Sister or Charge Nurse-normally be for a maximum of one hour.

DO NOT visit if you are feeling unwell, especially if you have a high temperature or new persistent cough. Children are also not permitted to visit.

Visitors must ensure that they carry out full hand washing or use sanitizer on entry when visiting. They should be bare below the elbows, and have no jewellery except a flat wedding band. Hands should be washed or sanitizer used when leaving.

If you can, please arrange a ‘virtual visit’ with your relative or friend on their smartphone or tablet. All HSC sites have access to free WI-FI and our staff will help set this up on the patient’s device. Please be patient as our staff will have to prioritise clinical work and patient care. Staff will monitor the use of technology in order to ensure the privacy and dignity of patients in their care at all times.

Whilst this policy is for use in hospital settings we would encourage its adoption for people receiving PALLIATIVE (end of life) care in other settings such as Nursing/Care Homes, Hospices and other settings.

Regarding people being cared for at home you should think carefully about social distancing and Stay at Home and restrict visiting to a minimum in order to protect your immediate and extended families, carer’s, relatives and friends.

If I am unable to visit how can I get an update about my relative’s condition?

Patients will be asked to nominate a single member of their family (or carer) to be the designated person to contact the ward. The nominated person will be asked to contact the ward for an update and share this information with family members.


I am concerned that I will not be able to get into a pharmacy or get my medicines

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.

A pharmacy is inflating prices for non-medicine items such as hand sanitiser or masks. Is this a breach of your standards and will you investigate this pharmacy?

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.

Can the pharmacy give me advice and medicines to help me treat the symptoms of coronavirus?

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.

A pharmacy is refusing to deliver my medicines to me, even though I need to self-isolate. What should I do?

We understand the challenges you are facing in getting your medicines while you self-isolate. We also recognise that pharmacies are working under significant pressure at the moment because of coronavirus and may not have enough capacity or resources to deliver medicines to everyone who is self-isolating. We would recommend you ask neighbours, friends or family if they would be able to collect your medicines on your behalf and then phone you just before leaving them on the doorstep for you to collect.

General Guidance

I am looking for guidance in a non-clinical setting for instance I run a facility for rough sleeping and hostel.

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
I am a carer – what guidance exists for me?

You can find information on this here.

Cancer Services

A statement from NICAN – Delivery of Systemic Anti-Cancer Treatment

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.

What will happen to my cancer treatment?

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.

I am on chemotherapy, if I experience sweats / cough / shivering, should I call NHS 111 or the chemotherapy care line?

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.

Will there be problems accessing my cancer drugs?

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.

If I need to self-isolate for more than seven days, what will happen in relation to treatment that has to be done weekly?

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

I have been exposed to the virus and am a carer for someone with cancer. What should I do? Who will look after the person I care for if I am unable to?

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.

I share a house with a person who needs to be shielded, but I am unable to follow the stringent social isolation guidelines (e.g. because of the size of the property or because I am a key worker). What should I do?

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.