Nine new signs of illness have been added to the official list of Covid-19 symptoms.
More general awareness that ailments such as sore throat, fatigue and headache could help to reduce infections, one expert said.
News that the symptoms list has been updated emerged just days after the government ended the offer of free universal Covid-19 tests in England - with the devolved government in Wales following suit, and changes to come in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
It comes as Covid infection levels have hit a record high in the UK, with almost five million people estimated to be currently infected.
ITV News Correspondent Sangita Lal reports on why the symptoms were added now and what the scientific community thinks
The new symptoms have been added to the NHS website, along with the three traditional symptoms of a fever, a new and persistent cough, and a loss or change in taste or smell.
According to nhs.uk the signs of Covid-19 that people should look out for also include:
– shortness of breath
– feeling tired or exhausted
– an aching body
– a headache
– a sore throat
– a blocked or runny nose
– loss of appetite
– feeling sick or being sick
A note on website adds: “The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”
Both the World Health Organisation and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US have had longer symptom lists for some time.
But in the UK the list had just three symptoms for almost two years.
It is understood that the government’s chief medical officer would have needed to sign off on the expanded list of symptoms.
The news of the change to the NHS list emerged just days after free universal testing for Covid-19 ended in England and Wales.
While some people still qualify for free tests in certain circumstances, the majority of people are now expected to go without or pay.
Under the previous testing regime people would only qualify for PCR tests – those performed in a lab – if they had one of the three main traditional symptoms or if they had been invited to take a test.
Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist of the Zoe Covid-19 symptom tracker app, wrote on Twitter: “NHS official Main symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) have finally changed after 2 years of lobbying and Zoe app user input – hurrah! Pity they have the order wrong – but it’s a start and could help reduce infections. thanks ZOE loggers!”
In March Prof Spector was highly critical of the government’s “refusal” to recognise a “wider array of symptoms”.
He suggested that not acknowledging the wider list of ailments afflicting people with the virus, along with the decision to drop isolation advice and withdraw free testing, could have driven up transmission rates.
Prof Spector said in March: “The government’s refusal to recognise the wide array of symptoms and to drop isolation advice and testing is likely driving the incredible number of cases we see today.
“Many people are no longer isolating when they have symptoms, either because they feel they don’t have to anymore or because they or their employers still don’t recognise symptoms like runny nose or sore throat as Covid.”
On Friday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that some 4.9 million people in the UK are estimated to have had Covid-19 in the week ending March 26, up from 4.3 million in the previous week.
The ONS said an estimated one in every 13 people in England had the virus during that week.