It seems that the window of opportunity to contain coronavirus is getting smaller. Following the similar shut-down methods of Governments in Italy and Ireland, the UK has been put on lockdown to help tackle the spread of coronavirus.
Here in the UK, health experts have confirmed that the disease is becoming truly widespread and the number of cases and deaths are drastically rising. The Government has deployed a ‘self-isolation’ strategy to tackle the disease, thanks in part to its success in containing the spread of SARS in 2004. According to Public Health England, “self-isolation...is the most effective way of preventing the coronavirus from spreading.”
So what does self isolation mean? How should you deal with the realities of not leaving home, and what to do if you live with others?
What does self-isolation mean?
The UK has closed its doors to pubs, theatres, restaurants and non-essential shops, as well as advising social gatherings with friends and families to stop.
If possible, you're told to stay in a well ventilated room, with a window to the outside that can be opened. People outside of your household cannot visit, no matter how urgent it may be. If you do need to speak to someone urgently, do it over the phone.
"You want to avoid opportunities for transmission, so you can talk to people on the phone and you can talk to people at a distance but you want to minimise the chances they will come into contact with you directly,” says Professor Christl Donnelly, professor of applied statistics at Oxford University and professor of statistical epidemiology at Imperial College London.
Prof Donnelly says that if you're in a house where someone is self-isolating, you'll need to monitor your behaviour patterns closely: "Try to limit the possibility they will touch things that you’ve been touching.
This isolation pod created by a company in Milton Keynes shows the measures which could be taken in order to successfully isolate someone.
Can I leave the house?
Since the new lockdown rules, people without symptoms can only leave the house for these reasons:
- Shopping for necessities
- Once a day for exercise
- Medical need or providing care
- Travelling to or from work (if you can't work from home)
How do I get food or supplies if I have symptoms?
The NHS has advised anyone with these symptoms to stay at home for seven days, and if they live with other people to self-isolate for 14 days:
- a high temperature
- a new, continuous cough
If you have any of these symptoms, you should order deliveries online.
Can I answer the door?
No. If you do get food or supplies delivered, they must be left outside for you to collect once the deliverer has departed.
Dr Lisa Ackerley, a trustee of the Royal Society for Public Health and chartered environmental health practitioner, suggests you leave a note on the front door, with your number to ring if the delivery person needs to speak to you.
What to do with your rubbish?
All waste that has come into contact with isolated individuals who show symptoms should be double bagged in bin liners, and not disposed of until the patient has been passed clear of coronavirus. If the patient is diagnosed positive, you will be told what to do with the rubbish, as it will be treated as medical waste.
How do I self-isolate while living with others?
If you share with others, if possible you should use a separate bathroom to those you live with. Ensure that everyone in the house uses separate towels both for drying themselves and for hand hygiene purposes.
Regular cleaning of the bathroom will be required, as well as the creation of a bathroom rota for showering or bathing, with the isolated person using the bathroom last and thoroughly cleaning it after use.
When using communal spaces, the isolated person should wear a face mask if one has been supplied. An isolated person should ideally not be in the same room as others, and meals should be taken back to bedrooms to eat, and should ideally be washed in a dishwasher immediately after use. If you do not have a dishwasher, plates should be washed separately, and cleaned with a separate tea towel, according to Government guidance.
Prof Donnelly highlights the kitchen as an area to be aware: “A key thing would be not sharing the kitchen in a shared household. People could put plates of food for you at your door."
What to do if I have children?
Prof Donnelly says that your decision “depends on the age of the child" – it's hard to isolate yourself from a baby that needs around-the-clock care; easier to do so if your child or children are teenage. "Realistically I think families are going to make different decisions on their personal circumstances in their home and their personal risk assessment,” she adds.
According to early research, children are less susceptible to coronavirus, with researchers in China reporting that none of the infants they identified with the disease had severe complications.
Cody Meissner, an infectious disease expert and professor of pediatrics at Tufts University School of Medicine, told NPR that “so far, it appears that more than 80pc of the [coronavirus] infections are pretty mild, no more severe than the common cold... and children appear to have even milder infections than adults”.
Do I need to wear a facemask?
If advised to, then yes you should wear a face mask. If you have been told to but are unable to, those you live with need to wear them instead.
Can I share household items?
No. Laundry, bedding and towels should be placed in a bag and washed once tests for SARS-CoV-2 are negative.
What if I have a home care visit?
Boris Johnson announced that all but essential visits to care homes should be cancelled to protect those who are most vulnerable - those over 70 - from the disease. But if it IS essential, the usual hygiene rules apply.
"It is good practice for anyone coming into the house to immediately wash their hands or use a hand gel before they carry out their duties, and you should insist on this anyway, regardless of coronavirus," says Dr Ackerley. "They may use disposable gloves, but these need to be a fresh pair for your house, and disposed of afterwards.
"Upon leaving, they should also wash their hands and dispose of their face mask and then wash their hands again."
What should I do about work?
Guidance from Public Health England encourages those in self-isolation to impress the importance of self-isolation policies upon employers, not just in general but also in terms of preventing the spread of infection at work too.
If you are well enough, make an agreement to work from home.
What else should I think about?
"Have packs of antimicrobial wipes and hand sanitisers at various locations in the house and encourage use by everyone," says Dr. Ackerley.
While the precautions are likely to be unnerving, it’s worth remembering that many have recovered from the virus. If you have concerns about having coronavirus, guidance can be found on the NHS’s website.