Coronavirus self-isolation: who needs to self-isolate and how to do it following new government social distancing rules
As the UK ramps up the rules on social distancing, the advice on self-isolating at home has changed.
Whereas before, citizens were being told to stay at home only if they had symptoms of coronavirus, now everybody should remain in their own houses to slow the spread of the disease, and reduce the strain on essential services like the NHS.
But while things have stepped up for everybody, there are still those who need to self-isolate, which is slightly different from social distancing.
"Do not leave your home if you have symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19) or live with someone who does," say the NHS, meaning that if you or someone in your household are suffering from either a high temperature or a new, continuous cough, you should isolate yourself for at least seven days.
But what does that mean?
Self-isolation is a way of restricting the movement of people who may have been exposed to an infectious disease in an effort to prevent the spread.
Those under isolation may not have a confirmed medical diagnosis, but could pose a risk of spreading the virus due to exposure.
Here's everything you need to know about it:
Who needs to self-isolate?
Anyone with symptoms of coronavirus should stay at home for at least seven days.
If you live with other people, they too should stay at home for at least 14 days, to avoid spreading the infection outside the home.
After 14 days, anyone you live with who does not have symptoms can return to their normal routine – while still practising social distancing, unless Government advice has changed.
If anyone in your home gets symptoms, they should stay at home for seven days from the day their symptoms start, even if it means they're at home for longer than 14 days.
If you need to speak to a medical professional while self-isolating, the advice is to "only call 111 if you cannot get help online."
How do I self-isolate?
While everybody needs to stay at home to aid in the fight against coronavirus, most of us are able to leave the house for one of four reasons; to shop for basic necessities, to exercise once a day, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person, or to travel to and from work (but only where this cannot be done from home).
But those who are suffering from the symptoms of coronavirus, and therefore self-isolating, have even fewer options of leaving the house.
If you are self-isolating, you must not leave your home for any reason, other than to exercise once a day – but stay at least two metres (three steps) away from other people.
This means you can not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order by phone or online or ask someone else to drop supplies off at your home – or have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home.
You can use your garden, if you have one.
How long should I self-isolate for?
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you'll need to self-isolate for at least seven days.
If you do not have a high temperature after seven days, you do not need to self-isolate. If you still have a high temperature, keep self-isolating until your temperature returns to normal.
You do not need to self-isolate if you just have a cough after seven days; a cough can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.
If you live with someone who has symptoms, you'll need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started – it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.
If more than one person at home has symptoms, self-isolate for 14 days from the day the first person started having symptoms.
If you get symptoms, self-isolate for seven days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you're self-isolating for longer than 14 days. If you do not get symptoms, you can stop self-isolating after 14 days.
How do I get an isolation note?
If you live with someone who has symptoms of coronavirus, you can get an isolation note to send to your employer as proof you need to stay off work.
You do not need to get a note from a GP, and can get a note from this link.
What should I do while self-isolating?
While you're self-isolating, you should take precautions to reduce the risk of infection to others who may be living in your own home; they should be self-isolating too, but could still avoid being infected if you are careful.
To do this, make sure to wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds – use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards.
Clean objects and surfaces you touch often (like door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products.
How do I stay sane?
Two weeks of self-isolation – followed by an indeterminate time of social distancing – sounds daunting, but there are plenty of things you can do to protect your health.
The NHS recommends drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, and taking paracetamol to help ease any symptoms you may have; there is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make coronavirus worse, but it should be avoided until there is more definitive information is available.
You can stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media, to help you avoid feeling low or lonely, and try to keep yourself busy – try activities like cooking, reading, online learning and watching films.
Do light exercise, if you feel well enough to, but remember that with all of the above, you’ll need to observe social distancing by staying at least two metres (three steps) away from other people.
Coronavirus: the facts
What is coronavirus?
COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that can affect lungs and airways. It is caused by a virus called coronavirus.
What caused coronavirus?
The outbreak started in Wuhan in China in December 2019 and it is thought that the virus, like others of its kind, has come from animals.
How is it spread?
As this is such a new illness, experts still aren’t sure how it is spread. But, similar viruses are spread in cough droplets. Therefore, covering your nose and mouth when sneezing and coughing, and disposing of used tissues straight away is advised. Viruses like coronavirus cannot live outside the body for very long.
What are the symptoms?
The NHS states that the symptoms are: a dry cough, high temperature and shortness of breath - but these symptoms do not necessarily mean you have the illness. Look out for flu-like symptoms, such as aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose and a sore throat. It’s important to remember that some people may become infected but won’t develop any symptoms or feel unwell.
What precautions can be taken?
Washing your hands with soap and water thoroughly. The NHS also advises to cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze; put used tissues in the bin immediately and try to avoid close contact with people who are unwell. Also avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth unless your hands are clean.
As of Monday 23 March the prime minister has put the UK into lockdown and instructed all citizens to stay at home. People can only leave their homes to exercise once a day, go shopping for food and medication, travel for medical needs or to care for a vulnerable person, and travel to work only if essential. Police will be able to enforce these restrictions.
All non-essential shops will close with immediate effect, as will playgrounds, places of worship and libraries. Large events or gatherings of more than two people cannot go ahead, including weddings and celebrations. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.
Children of separated parents can go between both parents' homes.
Anyone with a cough or cold symptoms needs to self-isolate with their entire household for 14 days.
The government has now instructed bars, restaurants, theatres and non-essential businesses to close and will review on a ‘month to month’ basis. Schools closed from Friday 20 March for the foreseeable future, and exams have been cancelled.
The over 70s or anyone who is vulnerable or living with an underlying illness are being asked to be extra careful and stay at home to self-isolate. People with serious underlying health conditions will be contacted and strongly advised to undertake "shielding" for 12 weeks.
For more information on government advice, please check their website.
Should I avoid public places?
You should now avoid public places and any non-essential travel. Travel abroad is also being advised against for the next 30 days at least, and many European countries have closed their borders.
What should I do if I feel unwell?
Don’t go to your GP but instead look online at the coronavirus service that can tell you if you need medical help and what to do next.
Sources: World Health Organisation and NHS