The official list of COVID-19 symptoms has been expanded to include nine new signs of the disease including headaches, diarrhoea and a blocked nose.

The list has been updated as COVID infection levels hit a record high in the UK, with almost five million people estimated to be currently infected.

Professor Tim Spector, lead scientist of the Zoe COVID-19 symptom tracker app, has said updating the symptoms list is overdue and could help reduce infections.

The extension comes just days after the government ended the offer of free universal COVID-19 tests.

The new symptoms have been added to the NHS website, alongside the three traditional symptoms of a fever, a new and persistent cough, and a loss or change in taste or smell.

According to the NHS 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;
  • diarrhoea;
  • feeling sick or being sick.

A note on the NHS website adds: “The symptoms are very similar to symptoms of other illnesses, such as colds and flu.”

Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US have had longer symptom lists for some time.

But in the UK the NHS list had just three symptoms for almost two years.

COVID latest: England opens up jabs to kids as young as five – follow live coronavirus updates

It is understood that the government’s chief medical officer, Professor Chris Whitty, would have needed to sign off on the expanded list of symptoms.

It comes as the majority of people now have to pay if they want to do a COVID test, with only the most vulnerable able to book a free test.

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 Spector tweeted: “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!”

Follow the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker

In March, Professor 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.

On Friday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said some 4.9 million people in the UK are estimated to have had COVID-19 in the week ending 26 March, 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.