How long does COVID last?

·4-min read
A woman squeezing the sample liquid on a test strip while carrying out a Covid-19 rapid self test at home.
Last year's Christmas build-up was dominated by fears over COVID restrictions. (Stock image: Getty)

Britons will be enjoying a return to a 'normal' Christmas after last year's festive season was dominated by fears around coronavirus, including restrictions that meant some people missed spending the festive 2021 with their families.

The run-up to Christmas Day last year saw fears across the UK that restrictions would be re-imposed due to the spreading of the Omicron variant of the virus.

On 22 December Boris Johnson confirmed that Christmas would go ahead without any curbs on socialising in England, though many still had to self-isolate.

People in Scotland also saw their festive celebrations affected, as Hogmanay street parties were cancelled for tens of thousands of people.

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND - DECEMBER 31: A couple is seen walking up a deserted street on December 31, 2021 in Edinburgh, United Kingdom. The countries that make up the UK have differing covid measures in place over the festive period. In Scotland, a maximum of 500 people can attend outdoor events where physical distancing of one metre is in place meaning the traditional Edinburgh Hogmanay celebrations have been canceled. The rule-of-six in regulated premises, such as bars, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, was reintroduced in Wales on Boxing Day along with the closure of nightclubs. In England, the government has not introduced any new measures. (Photo by Peter Summers/Getty Images)
In 2021, Hogmanay was cancelled in Edinburgh due to COVID restrictions. (Getty)

This year, no such rules are in place, giving many people the excitement of Christmas with their families without the fear of a positive COVID test.

Despite fewer restrictions, the threat of COVID has not disappeared.

In early December, the ONS said infections across the UK had risen above one million again, with levels increasing in England for the first time since mid-October

Latest figures from NHS England showed that the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 in England had risen 22% in a week - up from 5,501 on 7 December to 6,720 people on 14 December.

And it is this resurgence of the virus that has left many wondering how long symptoms can last for.

How long does COVID last?

According to the NHS website, most people with COVID feel better within a few days or weeks of their first symptoms and make a full recovery within 12 weeks.

However, it also points out that symptoms can last longer for some people suffering from Long COVID.

For those people, COVID can last months and research continues to be undertaken to determine the extent of its impact. An estimated 2.1 million people were living with long Covid in the UK – equivalent to 3.3% of the population – as of October 1,

Can you get COVID twice?

Advice published on the British Heart Foundation (BHF) website, updated in November 2022, says it is possible to get COVID twice - or even more.

It explains that reinfections are common due to the Omicron variant, citing ONS data that showed reinfections were five times higher in periods when Omicron was dominant compared to Delta, and also because immunity from previous infection and immunisation has reduced over time.

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It says: "When someone catches coronavirus, their immune system will generate a response that helps them to fight off the virus if they are exposed to it again. But it's not clear how long this immune response lasts, and it varies between people."

It also adds that those who are unvaccinated are more likely to catch COVID again.

The BHF says how soon someone can get COVID again varies from person to person, explaining that the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) counts cases as ‘reinfections’ if they happen at least 91 days from an initial infection.

How long are you contagious with COVID?

The NHS website says that you can pass on COVID to other people from 10 days from when your infection starts.

It adds that many people will no longer be infectious to others after five days.

An article published by Imperial College London in August, based on a study providing real-world evidence, said that it had found that the average amount of time people were infectious was five days but it did vary from person to person.

How long should you isolate with COVID?

The NHS advises that if you test positive for COVID you should try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people.

It says if you've tested positive, you should:-

  • Try to stay at home and avoid contact with other people for five days

  • Avoid meeting people at higher risk from COVID for 10 days, especially if their immune system means they are at higher risk of serious illness from the virus, even if they've had a vaccine.