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This section provides information about what coronavirus (COVID-19) is and how it affects your body. You will also find information about restrictions and staying safe, as well as COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.

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What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is a viral infection which can affect all parts of the body. It has a particularly strong effect on the respiratory system.

It is associated primarily with cough, fever, and respiratory difficulties, as well as “anosmia”, which is the loss or change of someone’s sense of smell or taste. COVID-19 also affects the heart, gut, and immune system, and can cause a wide range of symptoms throughout the body.

COVID-19 is spread through small droplets of saliva or mucus which are breathed out by people carrying the infection. These droplets are even more widely spread by coughs, sneezes, and heavy breathing.

Most people who develop COVID-19 symptoms recover within 2-3 weeks. However, an estimated 20% continue to present symptoms after 5 weeks, and around 10% still have symptoms after 12 weeks. This is called “Long Covid”.

Restrictions, Shielding and Self-Isolation

Many restrictions have been brought into practice since the appearance of the disease in Scotland in early 2020. These restrictions include use of face coverings, social distancing, contact tracing, and travel restrictions. You can find up-to-date guidance on these restrictions at the Scottish Government website or NHS Inform.

Shielding advice is no longer in place since 1 August 2020. Currently, people at high risk should follow the same guidance as the rest of Scotland. If this changes, people who were previously shielding should receive a text or call to inform them that they should go back to shielding.

The Scottish Government has lots of support still available for those who are in the shielding group and at very high risk of the virus. This includes online support and guidance. You can access this support from The government has also produced a ‘quick guide to risk for the shielding group’ and advice on ‘staying safe with daily activities’.


If you develop symptoms of coronavirus, have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, or test positive for COVID-19, you should self-isolate.
What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation means staying at home and not going out at all. You should stay at least 2 meters (6 feet or about 3 steps) away from others in your home.
If you need essentials like food or medicine, order them online or over the phone, or ask someone (like a family member, neighbour or friend) to pick them up for you and drop them off at your home. Do not have physical contact with them when they do. Do not have any visitors, except for those providing essential care.

How do I know if I need to self-isolate?

If you have shared a space with someone who had symptoms of coronavirus at the time, or someone who developed coronavirus symptoms within 48 hours of the time you spent together, you should self-isolate. If you live with someone who is self-isolating, you should self-isolate too. If you have a high temperature or a new, continuous cough or a loss of sense of smell or taste, you need to self-isolate and book a test. The test has to be completed within 8 days of developing symptoms.

If your symptoms are severe, you are short of breath or finding it difficult to breathe, your symptoms are getting worse or you are not better after 7 days, call your GP or 111. Do not go to your GP, pharmacy or hospital unless you are explicitly told to do so.

How long do I have to self-isolate for if I am living with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus?

If anyone you are living with has symptoms of coronavirus, you need to self-isolate for 10 days, even if you do not have any symptoms. This is because you might have the virus but not yet show any signs of it.

The 10 day period starts from when the person in the household first showed symptoms of coronavirus. If someone else in the household develops symptoms, they then need to self-isolate for 10 days from when their symptoms started, even if this takes them over the 10 day period.

Coping with self-isolation

Self-isolation is difficult, especially if you live by yourself. It is really important to try to stay in contact with family and friends as much as possible through phone calls, emails, messaging and video calls. Stay active as much as you can in the home.

Every Mind Matters offers advice and tips to help your mental health while you are staying at home. Remember that self-isolation is temporary and will not last forever.

Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland Advice Line nurses are also there to provide confidential support, advice and information. Call them for free on 0808 801 0899, email or text NURSE to 66777.


There are three types of test to see whether you have, or have had, COVID-19. These are:

  • PCR testing. This is the most reliable test for COVID-19. It can be performed in a clinic or at home, and takes a minimum of 48 hours to produce results. It detects the genetic material of the virus, and should be used if you have COVID symptoms. This test has to be completed within 8 days of developing symptoms, as the level of the virus may drop too much to detect after this time.
  • LFD testing. These tests are easier to produce and faster to develop than PCR tests. They detect proteins associated with the virus. If you test positive on one of these tests, you should immediately self-isolate and book a PCR test.
  • Antibody testing. These tests are mostly used in Scotland for research and study, rather than diagnosis. They test for evidence of an immune response, and therefore will not show up an infection immediately, but will continue to show a positive result even after the infection ends. A positive antibody test does not mean that you are immune, but does suggest that you have had COVID-19 at some point.

You can find out more about these tests, and how to book one, at NHS Inform.


Coronavirus vaccines are now available to every Scot over the age of 40. You may have been invited to get a vaccination already if you are in any of the following groups:

  • residents in a care home for older adults and their carers
  • frontline health and social care workers
  • clinically extremely vulnerable individuals
  • everyone aged 40 and over
  • those aged 16 to 64 with underlying health conditions which put them at higher risk of serious disease and mortality
  • all adults with a learning disability – mild, moderate, severe and profound
  • unpaid carers aged 16 to 64
  • household contacts of those who are severely immunosuppressed
  • adults experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping

There are several vaccinations available, but they have roughly similar ways of working. The coronavirus has structures called “spike proteins” which are present on the surface of the virus. Vaccines instruct your body to produce these proteins (not the virus) which trigger an immune response and teach your immune system to recognise and attack coronavirus.

None of the vaccines currently used in Scotland contain the virus, and being vaccinated will not give you COVID-19. There is also no evidence that vaccination has the long-term damaging effects that COVID-19 itself does.

Some people do experience side effects following vaccination. These may include:

  • tenderness, swelling and/or redness at the injection site
  • headache or muscle ache
  • joint pain
  • chills
  • nausea or vomiting
  • feeling tired
  • fever (temperature above 37.8°C)

These symptoms should pass within a few days.

Some people who have previously had severe allergic reactions may react badly to the virus. This is very uncommon (around 1 in 4,000 people) and can be avoided by discussing your allergic history with a doctor or health professional before getting the vaccination.

Being vaccinated is shown to protect you against severe COVID symptoms; it may also make you less likely to spread it, but as this is not yet fully proved, you should continue to follow restrictions and COVID-19 advice even when you are fully vaccinated.

Information on COVID-19 vaccination is available in several languages from NHS Lothian.

This page was last updated on May 6, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact to provide feedback.

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