How to correctly self-isolate

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 has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.


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