Coronavirus: What is self-isolation and who needs to do it?

Sarah Young
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On 23 March, Boris Johnson placed a lockdown on the UK, meaning that all shops selling non-essential goods,​ such clothing and electronics, and other premises including libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms have been forced to close.

During an address to the nation, the prime minister made it clear that only key workers should be travelling to work and people should only be going to shops to buy food or collect medicines and prescriptions. Although this should be done as little as possible.

Acknowledging that “many” more people will die in the crisis, Mr Johnson added that the measures will be reviewed in three weeks’ time, when they will be relaxed “if the evidence shows we are able to”.

While the entire country is expected to take part in the lockdown, those with symptoms of the coronavirus are being asked to self-isolate, which is seen as an important technique to help protect the public from coronavirus.

But what does self-isolation mean and who needs to be doing it? Here’s everything you need to know.

What is self-isolation?

Self-isolation is about protecting others and stopping the spread of infectious diseases such as coronavirus.

According to Public Health England (PHE), this means you must:

  • stay at home
  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport like buses, trains, tubes or taxis unless you have been told it is safe to do so by a member of the port or public health team
  • avoid visitors to your home

Who needs to self-isolate?

Self-isolation should be adopted by anyone who has or is living with someone who has symptoms of the coronavirus.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you will need to self-isolate for 7 days.

If you live with someone who has symptoms, you will need to self-isolate for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear.

Who should be self-isolating for 12 weeks?

Last month, the government confirmed that it was to send letters to people in England who should “take themselves out of society” for at least 12 weeks.

Anyone that falls into this category was “strongly advised” to stay at home at all times and avoid face-to-face contact.

They should also not go out for shopping and any food or medication deliveries should be left at the door to minimise contact.

Those included in this category are people suffering from serious health conditions which could put them most at risk from coronavirus and those aged 75 or older. The groups defined as “extremely vulnerable” who will receive the letter are:

  • Solid organ transplant recipients.
  • People with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy or radical radiotherapy for lung cancer.
  • People with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment.
  • People having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer.
  • People having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or Parp inhibitors.
  • People who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs.
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD.
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID and homozygous sickle cell).
  • People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
  • Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

How do you self-isolate if you live with other people?

It is important that anyone told to self-isolate separates themselves from other people in their home.

PHE recommends staying in a well-ventilated room with a window that can be opened, separate from other people in your home and to use a separate bathroom.

If a separate bathroom is not available, consideration should be given to drawing up a bathroom rota for washing or bathing, with the isolated person using the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom

If you share a kitchen with others (such as university halls of residence or similar), PHE recommends avoiding using it while others are present. If this is not possible then a facemask should be worn and meals should be consumed in your own room.

What if you need to go to work or take care of children?

During an outbreak, PHE states that it is important for people to do everything they can to reduce the risk of further spread of the infection, and this will require understanding and support from employers, family members and friends.

The organisation recommends talking to those around you about the importance of self-isolation to reduce the risk of spreading infection.

Since the UK has been placed on lockdown, people should only be travelling to and from work if it is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

The government has also published a list of “key workers” whose children will continue to be cared for at school amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The list of key workers has been separated into eight categories, including health and social care, key public services – such as those essential to the running of the justice system, religious staff, charities and journalists – and transport.

Those involved in food production, processing, distribution, sale and delivery are also included, along with “administrative occupations essential to the effective delivery of the Covid-19 response” in local and national government.

More NHS advice on what to do if you think you have been exposed to coronavirus can be found here.

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