Coronavirus quarantine and self-isolation: your questions answered
Health authorities are advising that people returning from areas affected by the new coronavirus should self-isolate.
What is the difference between self-isolation and being put in quarantine?
Self-isolation is a sort of voluntary quarantine, where people have to make their own arrangements.
What are people who are self-isolating expected to do?
They are expected to stay at home, and certainly not go to work or college. It has been described by public health officials as taking the same measures you would if you had a heavy cold – although perhaps the better comparison would be the flu.
The key thing is not to go near other people, to avoid spreading the virus, which is transmitted via droplets from coughs and sneezes. It is thought you need to be relatively close to inhale those droplets – maybe within a metre or so. But the droplets can also land on surfaces and transfer to people’s hands – hence the advice to wash them frequently.
Can they go to the shops to get food?
At first, some officials suggested it would do no harm to go to the shops, assuming people keep their distance from others. But more recently they have been advising people to arrange food deliveries to their homes.
What about their family?
The virus is most likely to be transmitted at close quarters, to family members. Those people will be at risk in any circumstances if one of the family is infected.
If people are returning to family from an affected area, the others may want to keep their distance as much as they can – or self-isolate as well.
What should they do if they feel unwell?
They should not go to a doctor’s surgery or medical facility, where they risk infecting other people, some of whom may be very vulnerable because they have health problems. They should stay home and call for advice. In the UK they should use the NHS 111 number.
What measures would be taken if someone does not follow the advice?
These are voluntary measures and they cannot be compelled. Authorities have imposed stricter quarantine conditions on people known to have been exposed to high-risk situations.