The difference between self-isolation and social distancing

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There has been a lot of confusion about how self-isolation works and all it entails. With the number of coronavirus cases doubling in the last three days, there is no better time to become acquainted with exactly what self-isolation and social distancing entails.

Self-isolation is different from social distancing
You should self-isolate for 14 days if you have recently returned from overseas (or even those who have recently flown interstate), or if you think you or someone close to you may have been in close contact with a person diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Social isolation means you must stay at home and not go to any public places including work, school, childcare, university or public gatherings. Only people who usually live with you should be in the home. Do not see visitors.

If you are well, there is no need to wear surgical masks at home. Ask others who are not in isolation to get food and necessities for you. If you must leave the home, to seek medical care (for example), wear a surgical mask. If you don’t have a mask, try not to cough or sneeze on others.

Rather than having no contact with other people, social distancing means less contact between you and other people as a way to stop or slow the spread of infectious diseases. The more space between you and others, the harder it is for the virus to spread.

According to the Department of Health, social distancing is important because COVID-19 is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

  • direct close contact with a person while they are infectious or in the 24 hours before their symptoms appeared
  • close contact with a person with a confirmed infection who coughs or sneezes, or
  • touching objects or surfaces (such as door handles or tables) contaminated from a cough or sneeze from a person with a confirmed infection, and then touching your mouth or face.

Self-isolation guidelines
Monitor yourself for symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness or shortness of breath, chills, body aches, runny nose and muscle pain.

If you do develop symptoms within 14 days of returning to Australia or last contact of a confirmed case, you should see a doctor for an assessment. Telephone a health clinic or hospital before you arrive and tell them your travel history or that you have been in contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus.

Whether confirmed or waiting for a test, you must remain isolated either in your home or healthcare setting until health authorities inform you it is safe for you to return to society.

Others who live with you are not required to be isolated unless they meet any of the isolation criteria. If you develop symptoms and are confirmed to have coronavirus, you will also need      to be isolated.

If you are sick but not ‘infected’
If you are sick but not infected with coronavirus, the most important thing you can do is stay away (more than 1.5 metres) from others. This will help to slow the spread of disease in the community.

Practise good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene. Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, before and after eating, and after going to the toilet. Cover your cough and sneeze, dispose of tissues, and use alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Prevent the spread of coronavirus
Using the same techniques mentioned above is the best defence against most viruses – including COVID-19.

If you’ve been told to isolate, can you still go outside?
The answer is yes, but ideally not in public. It is safe for you to go into your yard or garden. If you absolutely have to go out in public, wear a surgical mask to minimise the risk to others and move quickly through any common areas.

Social distancing at home
Practise good hand and sneeze/cough hygiene, avoid handshaking and kissing, and regularly disinfect touch surfaces, such as tables, kitchen benches and doorknobs. Opening windows and doors increases the ventilation and makes your air healthier. Only visit shops sparingly and, if possible, try to buy more goods online. Consider whether any outings are sensible and necessary.

Social distancing in public
To reduce the spread of germs in public, you should sanitise your hands wherever possible, including entering and leaving buildings; use cashless systems rather than handle money; and travel at quiet times and try to avoid crowds. Any number of people in one place can increase the risk of virus transmission.

You should regularly clean frequently touched surfaces such as door handles, light switches, kitchen and bathroom areas. Clean with household detergent or disinfectant.

What can you do in isolation?
Being in isolation can be stressful and boring. To mitigate this, try to keep in touch with family members and friends via telephone, email or social media. Where possible, keep up normal daily routines, such as eating and exercise, and do things that help you relax or as an opportunity to do activities you don’t usually have time for.

For the latest advice, information and resources, go to, or call the 24-hour National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If you require translating or interpreting services, call 131 450. Details of your state or territory public health agency are available at

How closely are you following the new rules? How will you handle self-isolation?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca is a voracious reader who loves words. You'll often find him spending time in galleries, writing, designing, painting, drawing, or photographing and documenting street art. He has a publishing and graphic design background and loves movies and music, but then, who doesn’t?



Total Comments: 7
  1. 0

    I have been in self isolation for 10 days now after going to New Zealand for 3 days,while I was there I didn’t leave the hotel where I was staying.
    The house where I am isolating in is in a country town, where I am able to go down and get some food, as I am by myself and have no one to get food for me, so I consider it an emergency.
    After the conclusion of my isolation I was intending to get a short term rental somewhere but that is proving difficult, the cost of a motel for 3 months is out of my budget, so it looks as though I will put a sleeping bag in the car and go bush.

    • 0

      Hi. Great to see you are doing the right thing and caring for the rest of your community. Should be more of it!
      On the subject of food, in a small country town, it may be possible to call the store and get your groceries delivered? More so if you are a regular.
      I hope in the near future, the authorities consider it important enough to test everyone who could have/may have been in contact with those with the virus, whether you have symptoms or not.
      Anyway. good luck for the future.

  2. 0

    Living in the country, not a filthy city, we already are used to self-isolation, including avoiding travelling to the shops every day, and so on. Nothing much different to our normal life.

    It must be tough for those now without work, or are close to family, or whatever. Tougher still for those caught in the proximity to someone with CV, or who were overseas at the time. It must be really worrying for all of the smokers out there.

    We realise though that this will pass, and it could have been a lot worse( eg the mediaeval Plague, where many died the same day as they caught the infection and there was no medicine to help), and that this separation thing will slow (not stop) the RATE of the spread. That means that our medical systems MAY be able to cope with the influx of ill people WHEN it happens.

    Only the selfish, the deluded, the thoughtless and the dim will not be able to understand this. Plenty of them though! Fine, but keep your distance from me!!

    Best of luck to you all.

  3. 0

    I thought self isolation means not going out in public at all! Phone a charity if you cannot get out.

    • 0

      After a relationship breakdown I decided to go overseas for a while, booked a non refundable airline ticket and off I went, deciding to self isolate in my hotel, the booking also non refundable, so arrived and stayed in my room for 3 days getting room service. On arriving back in Australia I was honest and upfront with the establishment I had booked into,they cancelled my reservation, so I started looking elsewhere and got the same response after being honest.
      Being a veteran and returned from active service I contacted the RSL and they offered my some accommodation in Queensland, but I am in Victoria, so I cant go there.
      In future when I am asked why I am applying for accommodation as a single person, I am going to say that I came home from work early from shift and found my wife in bed with another woman, see how that goes.
      So effectively my isolation is somewhat confusing, does it start from the day I left Australia and self isolated somewhere else before returning home, I think not.

  4. 0

    Did anyone see Wednesday nights 7.30 report? Was the best explanation I have heard yet. Please go to ABC view online to watch it. But here is the basic: If we increase testing and put all those who have tested positive into isolation and all those that they have been in contact with in isolation then we can starve the virus. It needs a host to continue, so if 80% of the population stay home we have a much greater chance of starving the virus, if we go hard and have full lockdown we can see it all over within 4-6 weeks. And then restrictions can be slowly lifted so it does not have a chance to re-emerge. We need this on the news every night not all the doom and gloom that it is going to get worse, this is not helping. Japan and South Korea went hard and they are already under the line (watch 7.30 report for this explanantion of what that means). We can do it, give people a choice do you want it to go on for months and possibly a year or do you want to do what needs to be done now to starve it and have it all over within weeks? I know what I want, spread the word.


  5. 0

    That’s very important



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