With coronavirus infecting more than 100,000 people across the world, many are being told to take themselves away from the public.
Those who have returned from heavily affected areas, developed symptoms or been in close contact with a sufferer are set to go into self-isolation for 14 days – but how exactly do you self-isolate?
Can you still use the same bathroom as your family or flatmates? How is best to keep clean? How do you keep your mental spirits high when you’re not getting any human contact?
The government and the NHS have a number of recommendations to help those struggling, as the number of UK cases hits 206.
Can I still see the people I live with?
Health Secretary Matt Hancock has said those caring for themselves at home should try to shut themselves away and avoid their loved ones, as well as work and public areas.
Government advice says to stay in a well-ventilated room with a window to the outside that can be opened, but the door closed.
The NHS has recommended that people stay away from pets. If this is unavoidable though, experts recommend you wash your hands before and after contact.
Prof Tom Solomon, Director, NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, University of Liverpool, has claimed: ‘As far as possible the person infected with the coronavirus should keep themselves away from other household members.
‘They should be extremely careful about coughing and sneezing into tissues which they then dispose of, and everyone in the household should be scrupulous about hand washing.’
Prof Jonathan Ball, Professor of Molecular Virology, University of Nottingham, has added that there is ‘no need’ to quarantine entire families.
He said: ‘Those in self-isolation should try to minimise interactions with household members during the isolation period and follow the self-isolation advice on the government website. This advice is designed to protect those other people most at risk, as well as the wider public.
‘There is no need to isolate an entire family because an uninfected person poses no risk. If someone else within the family then develops symptoms they too should immediately isolate.’
Although it’s best to not be in the same room as other people, your loved ones can support you by carrying out errands such as fetching groceries or medicines from the outside world.
If you’re ordering a delivery, tell the driver to leave the items on the doorstep for collection.
While in self-isolation, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Rinse and dry them thoroughly.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
The government recommends regular bathroom and bedroom cleaning and washing laundry at home at the highest temperature compatible for the fabric.
It’s best that rubbish is put in a plastic rubbish bag and not thrown out until the patient tests negative for coronavirus.
Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, eating utensils, towels, bedding or other items with other people in your home, the NHS adds.
The health service is also advising those living with people in isolation to think about establishing a bathroom rota if separate facilities are not available.
The isolated person would use the facilities last, before thoroughly cleaning the bathroom.
Look after your mental health
Spending weeks in isolation can trigger PTSD, depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even drug abuse, according to a King’s College London study.
Researchers found psychological effects can last months or even years when they analysed 24 previous studies that investigated the psychological impact of quarantine during epidemics in the past – including SARS and Ebola.
So, how can you look after your mental health while in self-isolation?
It’s recommended that people in quarantine or isolation have regular communication with the outside world through phone calls or video calls, helping them to feel less lonely.
If you’re still finding things hard, turn to a mental health service like Samaritans for emotional support.
The Mental Health Foundation has told people to try and avoid speculation and only look up reputable sources on the outbreak.
Keeping your brain busy is a good way to put any fears you may have to rest, so it’s time to watch that Netflix show that you’ve had on your list for years.
It’s also worth considering starting a project – have you always wanted to write a book? Now is your chance.
Making sure your body is busy is equally as important during this time, the Mental Health Foundation claims.
While you may not be able to hit the gym, you could do some exercise videos to keep active.
Eat a balanced diet while you’re in isolation and test out stress management techniques if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
Many people have been stockpiling food while in self-isolation, or buying large quantities of long-life items in anticipation of a further coronavirus outbreak.
However, the government has recommended against this, with Matt Hancock saying ministers are ‘absolutely confident that there won’t be a problem there’.
Ministers are said to be in talks with retailers and delivery companies about providing supplies to vulnerable people who are self-isolating, The Daily Telegraph reports.
Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) on behalf of supermarkets, said she was ‘confident’ that limited availability of long-life products and hand sanitiser would not last.
The BRC is ‘working constructively with Government officials to ensure that supermarkets remain stocked and supply chains continue to function as normal for the foreseeable future’.
Will I still get paid?
Permanent employees who are sick with the virus are entitled to usual sick pay.
Statutory sick pay is normally £94.25 a week after the first three days – however, the government has announced this will be made available from day one when self-isolating.
Many casual or agency workers may also be entitled to sick pay but self-employed people are not, while Citizens Advice advises that people on zero-hours contracts can still get sick pay and should ask their employer.
There is no automatic legal right to sick pay for those who don’t have symptoms and are told to self-isolate as a precaution – but Boris Johnson has said this is under review.
The government has advised people to claim universal credit or employment and support allowance if they are stopped from working for public health reasons.
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