Coronavirus: How to self-isolate

Self-isolation is a daunting prospect for many but it has now become reality for millions right around the world as governments attempt to get to grips with a surge in coronavirus cases.

For some, self-isolation is a totally new concept and many are left scratching their heads as to what it actually entails.

Here are some of the key questions answered if you or someone you know is heading into a 14-day period of isolation.

Do I need to self-isolate?

Anyone arriving from overseas in Australia must self-isolate for a period of 14 days.

Anyone who has been in China or Iran within the last 14 days needs to, as does anyone who has been in South Korea on or after March 5 and Italy on or after March 11.

People who have had close contact with a confirmed case must also self-isolate, even if they’re not showing any symptoms, the Department of Health says.

What happens if I fall sick during isolation?

If you develop symptoms such as a fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath, you must contact your doctor or hospital immediately.

They will assess your situation and may arrange for you to attend an assessment. Judging on your test results, condition or living situation, you may be kept in hospital or sent home to continue self-isolation.

“You must remain isolated either in your home or a healthcare setting until public health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to your usual activities,” the Department of Health says.

Can I be around family members or others who live in my home?

It depends whether you are showing symptoms or not.

If you don’t have any symptoms, the people who normally live with you such as your partner and children can be around you.

However if you later begin showing symptoms, the people you have been in contact with would then have to undergo their own 14-day self-isolation.

If you have symptoms and are feeling unwell, it is vital you have your own room and minimise any contact with family or those living with you.

Professor Ian Mackay, virologist and associate professor at the University of Queensland, told Yahoo News Australia that strict self-isolation at home when symptoms are shown appeared to be the main reason countries such as South Korea had managed to curtail a once-rapidly growing number of cases.

A man in a mask stands outside alone in Italy.
Self-isolating means you cannot go outside. Source: Getty

“South Korea’s Minister for Health made a comment just recently that the lockdowns weren’t as important as the testing and isolation and that’s probably because a lot of the spread in China seems to have occurred within households and not out in the wider community,” he said.

“So if we can keep those people that we know are positive for the virus away from other people, even from family, even in a separate room, so that we don’t have that contact then we seem to be able to stop the epidemic through those measures alone.”

Anyone that lives with you who is vulnerable, including the elderly and those with underlying health issues, should seek to stay somewhere else.

Family or those living with confirmed cases will need to self-isolate.

If you are awaiting test results, your public health unit will decide if isolation is needed for others on a case-by-case basis.

Am I allowed guests?

Guests are not allowed when in self-isolation. Communication with people outside your home must be done through your phone or video call.

Anyone delivering food or groceries must be notified beforehand to drop items off at your door.

The same goes for family and friends helping out.

Can I go outside?

The simple answer is no.

The whole point of a self-isolation period is to stay indoors, so any trip outside of your property is forbidden.

“It's tempting quickly popping out to the shops down the road [but] ideally you shouldn't do that,” infectious disease expert Dr Sanjaya Senanayake told Channel Nine’s Today Extra.

However, if you have a private garden you can use that and if you live in a complex with a shared garden you can use it as long as you are wearing a mask. Social distancing must also be exercised and you should not spend anytime in indoor social areas.

The only time someone can leave is if they need to seek medical attention. A mask must be worn, social distancing must be implemented and ideally private transport should be arranged.

Do I need to wear a mask indoors?

If you don’t have any symptoms, you won’t need to wear a mask inside.

However, if you are feeling unwell, it is essential.

Wear the mask at all times when coming into contact with people inside your home and while in communal areas.

If you don’t have a mask, minimise all contact with others inside your home and make sure to cover coughs and sneezes when in contact with others.

What do I need when self-isolating?

If available, those with symptoms or confirmed cases should use their own bathroom.

You should have your own bedroom, your own linen and your own space to eat with your own cutlery.

“Be separated as much as possible,” the Department of Health warns.

What can I do to reduce the risk?

Impeccable hygiene is a must in self-isolation.

Washing your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap is vital.

Covering your sneezes and coughs, disposing of tissues properly and using alcohol-based hand sanitisers are all key steps to remember.

Keeping the home clean is also important, and can be completed either by yourself or others.

If entering your private room to clean, others must wear a mask and gloves and use alcohol hand rub before and after.

“Surfaces which are touched regularly, such as door handles, kitchen and bathroom areas and phones should be cleaned frequently using detergent and water or a detergent-based cleaner,” the Department of Health advises.

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