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Coronavirus (COVID-19): What is self-isolation and why is it important?

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Coronavirus (COVID-19), Health Protection

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The COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation and information and guidance is therefore updated frequently. This blog was last updated on 4 March 2020 and the information below has since been superseded.

Please visit for the latest health advice or for all other information.

We recently blogged about contact tracing, an important technique we use to stop diseases like COVID-19 from spreading. Part of the contact tracing process may involve asking someone who has had close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to self-isolate at home.

The Government has now published a Coronavirus Action Plan and this also talks about the role for self-isolation, which could potentially include wider groups of people across the UK who have symptoms such as a cough or fever. This recognises that we are seeing more cases of coronavirus in the community, so we are concerned the virus may begin to spread.

In this blog, we will explain what self-isolation is, why it is important, and which groups are currently being advised to self-isolate.

Self-isolation is about protecting others and slowing down the spread of COVID-19. It is very important that anyone who has the virus, or might have been exposed to it, limits the number of people they come into contact with for 14 days. This is the most effective way of preventing the coronavirus from spreading.

If you are asked to self-isolate, it is important that you follow the advice which is there to help keep you, your loved ones, and your community safe.

Self-isolation may seem tricky at first, but across the country, hundreds of people have already successfully done it. If you have been advised to self-isolate by a health professional or through official Government advice, all the instructions you need to follow are available on the NHS website and the tips in this blog should help to make things easier.

We will update this blog as new information becomes available, so bookmark this page now and keep checking back.

Who needs to self-isolate?

Currently in the UK, self-isolation is relevant to several groups of people:

People who are waiting for a COVID-19 test result

If you have travelled back from an area where the coronavirus is known to be present and have symptoms, you may have been asked to take a COVID-19 test. Whilst waiting for the results of tests for COVID-19 coronavirus infection, you will be advised by your local health protection team and your doctor to stay at home and self-isolate. Follow the important instructions detailed on this advice sheet.

People who are identified as being a close contact of someone with coronavirus

At the moment, we are undertaking contact tracing to prevent the infection spreading further.

This contact tracing work may lead to more people being advised to self-isolate. Find out more about how this process works in our explainer blog.

Returning travellers

If you have recently been in/travelled through a number of areas you may be at greater risk of being exposed to coronavirus. There are some areas where travellers are being asked to self-isolate even if you have no symptoms, and other areas where we ask you to self-isolate if you experience symptoms, even if mild. Please check the latest travel advice on GOV.UK

The general public may be asked to self-isolate

We are not currently advising that individuals outside of the groups above should self-isolate, but if COVID-19 begins to spread in the community over the coming days or weeks, people with symptoms of coronavirus (such as a cough or fever) may be asked to self-isolate at home. This may mean staying indoors and avoiding contact with other people for up to 14 days.

Asking wider groups of people with symptoms to self-isolate is a measure sometimes used when an infection is spreading in the community, for instance during the winter if you suspected you had flu you would remain at home to avoid passing it on to people in your community or at work. If we recommend this action, we'll immediately inform the public and provide additional advice.

What does self-isolating mean?

If you have been told to self-isolate, you will need to get to the place you are going to stay using your normal mode of transport, once there remain indoors and avoid contact with other people. This will prevent you from spreading the disease to your family, friends and the wider community.

In practical terms, this means that once you reach your residence you must:

  • stay at home
  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis
  • avoid visitors to your home
  • ask friends, family members or delivery services to carry out errands for you - such as getting groceries, medications or other shopping

What if I get symptoms/what if my condition changes?

If you have been asked to self-isolate because of your recent travel, but had no symptoms, make sure you report any cough, fever or breathing difficulties to NHS111, telling them you are being asked to self-isolate because of coronavirus. If you have been given a designated medical contact point you can also contact them for advice. They will talk you through the next steps.

If you have self-isolated because you have symptoms, it's important to know that most people with COVID-19 are expected to experience only mild symptoms.

We expect the majority of people who catch it will make a full recovery without medical attention, but if you are concerned because you believe you are at greater risk, or feel your symptoms are becoming more severe, contact NHS 111 or alternatively 999 in an emergency.

How do I get food or supplies?

It is fine for friends or family to drop off food for you. Alternatively, you can order by phone or online, such as through take away services or online shopping deliveries. However, make sure you tell the delivery driver that the items are to be left outside, or in the porch, or as appropriate for your home.

I live with other people, how do I self-isolate?

It is important that you separate yourself from other people in your home and if you share facilities like toilets and bathrooms, regular cleaning will be required.

You should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home.

In the advice sheet, there are specific recommendations in the case that a separate bathroom is not available, if you live in shared accommodation, and if you share a kitchen with others, and these should be followed closely.

What if I have other responsibilities, such as work and taking care of family?

Unfortunately, if you have COVID-19 - or are at higher risk of being infected - we must prioritise reducing the risk of transmitting the disease to others, particularly to people who may be more vulnerable such as older people or people with health conditions.

During an outbreak, it is important that we all do everything we can to reduce the risk of further spread of the infection. This will require understanding and support from employers, family members and friends.

Talk to those around you, including your employer, about the importance of self-isolation to reduce the risk of spreading infection at work. If you are well, you can work from home.

Make plans with your family and friends on how to manage shopping, dropping children to schools and events

Ask people to not visit your house for your duration; if you need a healthcare or care visit at home during this time, inform them that you are self-isolating in advance so that they can follow their local employers’ guidance.

I am finding this hard, what should I do?

We understand that for some people self-isolation can be boring or frustrating. You may find your mood and feelings being affected and you may feel low, worried or have problems sleeping. You may also feel isolated and alone.

However, we would not ask you to do this if it was not important. There are simple things you can do that may help, such as staying in touch with friends and relatives on the phone or by social media and you may find it helpful to talk to them, if you want to.

There are also resources you can use, including Every Mind Matters and Good Thinking.

Some people who have self-isolated have found it useful to re-connect with a hobby or learn a new skill through an online course.

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