Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation?

coronavirus what are social distancing and self isolation - Coronavirus: What are social distancing and self-isolation?Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption People have been urged to keep a distance

The government says it is prepared to take “more action” if people do not follow its advice to limit the spread of coronavirus when they have to leave their homes.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the BBC that some people’s behaviour was “very selfish”.

What should I be doing?

Everybody in the UK has been asked to stop non-essential contact and stay at home wherever possible. If people do go outside – to buy food for example – they must stay more than 2m (6.5ft) apart from others.

To prevent people getting too close, cafes, pubs, restaurants, nightclubs, theatres, cinemas, gyms and leisure centres are all closing.

The move is part of the UK’s social distancing measures to minimise non-essential contact. By keeping a safe distance from other people, it becomes much harder for the disease to spread.

It follows people with flu-like symptoms – such as a dry cough and high temperature – being asked to self-isolate at home to avoid infecting others.

Can I go for a walk on a sunny day?

Even though people are being urged to stay at home, Mr Hancock says “it is important that people get exercise, but they should do it staying away from others”.

Public Health England (PHE) says: “You can go for a walk or exercise outside if you stay more than 2m from others.”

However, in many crowded parks or beauty spots it would be difficult to stay the necessary distance apart, so some authorities have taken action.

London’s Hammersmith and Fulham Council has shut all parks across the borough and other parks across the capital are being closed.

Elsewhere, car parks and trails in Snowdonia may also close as many people have gone walking there. The National Trust has also been closing parks and gardens.

Dr Robin Thompson, from the University of Oxford, says: “The key thing is to exercise while minimising contacts. Local footpaths are likely to be less crowded than walks through major parks.”

Why is social distancing necessary?

Social distancing is important because coronavirus spreads when an infected person coughs small droplets – packed with the virus – into the air. These can be breathed in, or can cause an infection if you touch a surface they have landed on, and then touch your face with unwashed hands.

The less time people spend together, the less chance there is of this happening.

Everyone is now being told to follow social distancing measures, especially the over-70s, pregnant women and adults normally eligible for a flu jab.

How to do social distancing

  • Work from home whenever possible
  • Avoid all unnecessary travel
  • Stay away from crowded places
  • Avoid gatherings with friends and families wherever possible

What am I allowed to do when social distancing?

  • You can see family and friends if it’s essential
  • You can walk your dog
  • You can provide essential care for elderly relatives and neighbours if you have no symptoms
  • You can go to the shops to buy food and groceries
  • You can exercise at a safe distance from others

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolating means staying at home and not leaving it, other than for exercise. Don’t go to work, school or public areas during this time.

If possible, you should not go out even to buy food or other essentials. If you are unable to get supplies delivered, you should do what you can to limit social contact when you do leave the house.

Who should self-isolate?

Everyone who shows coronavirus symptoms – a fever of above 37.8C, a persistent cough or breathing problem – and everyone who lives in the same house or flat as someone with symptoms.

  • If you live alone, you must stay at home for seven days from the day symptoms start
  • If you, or someone you live with, develop symptoms, the entire household needs to isolate for 14 days to monitor for signs of Covid-19
  • If someone else does become ill during that period, their seven-day isolation starts that day. For example, it might run from day three to day 10 – when that person’s isolation would then end. It would not restart if another member of the household fell ill
  • But anyone who fell ill on day 13 would see their seven-day isolation begin then – for their illness rather than to monitor for symptoms – meaning they would spend a total of 20 days at home

The person with the symptoms should stay in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, and keep away from other people in the home.

People are being advised not to ring NHS 111 or their GP to report their symptoms unless they are worried.

Who shouldn’t go out at all?

About 1.5 million people with very serious health conditions will be contacted by the NHS and urged not go out at all for at least 12 weeks. This is being referred to as shielding.

Others in the same household, and carers, can go out as long they observe proper social distancing.

The most vulnerable group includes:

  • Certain types of cancer patients
  • Organ transplant patients
  • People with certain genetic diseases
  • People with serious respiratory conditions like cystic fibrosis and severe chronic bronchitis
  • People receiving certain drug treatments which suppress the immune system
  • Pregnant women with heart disease

They will be contacted with advice on how to manage their self-isolation, including getting supplies of essential food and medicines.

The government says it will work with local authorities, supermarkets and the armed forces to ensure this happens.

What happens if you have a vulnerable person living with you during self-isolation?

You should keep at least 2m away from a vulnerable person (such as pregnant women, the elderly or those with an underlying health condition) during any period of isolation, according to PHE.

Limit time spent together in shared spaces, like kitchens, and keep all rooms well-ventilated. If they can, the vulnerable person should take their meals back to their room to eat.

A vulnerable person should also use separate towels from the rest of the household. If possible, they should use a separate bathroom. If that is not possible, the bathroom should be cleaned every time it’s used (for example, wiping surfaces with which you have come into contact).

People living with someone in isolation should wash their hands often, using soap and water for at least 20 seconds – especially after coming into contact with them.

Personal waste (like tissues) should be double-bagged and put aside for 72 hours before being put in your outside bin.

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