These are the UK's three official COVID symptoms – and how they differ from the WHO's

Ross McGuinness
·4 min read
 Instruction signs showing symptoms and wearing of facemasks at the entrance to the Covid-19 test center. On the day that the UK sees the highest daily toll of 1,325 deaths from Covid-19 this 'walk-In' test Centre at the University of Bedfordshire is empty. Despite the fact that latest figures show that Bedford has Covid-19 rates of 936 cases per 100k of population against a national average of 594. (Photo by Keith Mayhew / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
A sign listing the UK's main COVID-19 symptoms outside a test centre at the University of Bedfordshire. (PA)

Doctors have called on the government to add cold and flu symptoms to the UK’s official list of coronavirus symptoms.

More than 140 GPs signed an open letter to England’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, asking the UK to bring its official COVID-19 symptoms in line with the World Health Organization (WHO).

The letter, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says a runny nose, a sore throat and a headache should be added to the UK’s official list.

According to the NHS, there are currently three main symptoms of coronavirus: a high temperature; a new, continuous cough and a loss or change to sense of smell or taste.

 Pedestrian walks past a COVID-19 sign encouraging people to stay alert and save lives. Department of Health and Social Care recorded a total of 3,817,176 infections, 106,158 death and 1,673,936 recovered since the beginning of the outbreak. (Photo by May James / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)
Doctors want the UK's official list of coronavirus symptoms to be updated. (PA)

Last month, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that people with the new UK variant of coronavirus were less likely to report loss of taste or smell.

In their letter, the group of doctors from east London state: “As GPs, we regularly review patients with mild symptoms – for example, a runny or blocked nose, sore throat, hoarseness, myalgia, fatigue, and headache – who subsequently turn out to be COVID-19 positive.”

The GPs said many patients with such symptoms have not self-isolated in the “crucial early days when they were most infectious”, and pointed out that only people with the three main symptoms are able to access an online COVID-19 test through the NHS.

“GPs have to advise patients to be dishonest to get a COVID-19 test,” the letter said.

Watch: People with UK COVID variant ‘less likely to report loss of taste’

What are the UK's official symptoms?

According to the NHS, the main symptoms of coronavirus are:

1. A high temperature

Meaning you feel hot to touch on your chest or back.

2. A new, continuous cough

This means coughing a lot for more than an hour, or three or more coughing episodes in 24 hours.

3. A loss or change to your sense of smell or taste

This means you’ve noticed you cannot smell or taste anything, or things smell or taste different to normal.

The NHS says “most people with coronavirus” have at least one of these three symptoms.

Those with any of the main symptoms should get a COVID-19 test as soon as possible, the NHS says.

Under the government’s “stay at home” guidance during England’s third national lockdown, people should only go outside to shop for basic necessities; for work if they cannot do so from home; exercise with their household or one other person; meet their support bubble or childcare bubble; seek medical assistance or attend education or childcare if eligible.

What does the WHO recommend?

The World Health Organization lists the most common symptoms of COVID-19 as fever, dry cough and tiredness.

It says “less common symptoms” are aches and pains, sore throat, diarrhoea, conjunctivitis, headache, loss of taste or smell and a rash on skin or discolouration of fingers or toes.

Under its “serious symptoms”, it lists: difficulty breathing or shortness of breath; chest pain or pressure and loss of speech or movement.

It advises those with serious symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

The WHO says people “with mild symptoms who are otherwise healthy should manage their symptoms at home”.

In additional advice for the public, the WHO says patients should stay at home if they have minor symptoms such as a cough, headache or mild fever.

What do others say?

According to the COVID Symptom Study, a joint project between King's College London, Guy's and St Thomas' Hospitals and health technology company Zoe Global, there are at least six distinct clusters of coronavirus symptoms.

Via data shared through its app from millions of people in the UK, it has found that headache and fatigue are among the most common early symptoms of coronavirus.

It said sore throat, loss of appetite and shortness of breath are also commonly reported.

In older people, delirium is a common symptom, the study said, while rashes are seen in about 8% of COVID infections.

It says that, in some cases, less typical symptoms such as rashes or delirium are the only ones experienced.

The study advises people to self-isolate and get tested even if their symptoms don’t match the “classic triad” of high temperature, new cough and loss of taste or smell.

Last week, it also recommended that the suggested COVID fever temperature should be adjusted for age. In November, it said there are 16 symptoms of long COVID.

Watch: What is long COVID?