What is social distancing?
Social distancing aims to reduce the amount of close contact people have with one another. The coronavirus can be spread through airborne droplets released when infected people cough or sneeze, so keeping your distance reduces your chances of becoming infected by this route. Avoid contact with anyone with symptoms of coronavirus: a high temperature and/or a new continuous cough.
Does that mean never going out?
No, but for most people it means radical lifestyle changes. To reduce the spread of the virus, you should avoid meeting up with friends and family, avoid venues such as pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas and theatres, and work from home wherever possible. If you need to see the doctor or other essential services, use the phone, internet or social media if possible. You can go out for a walk for exercise, but stay two metres away from others.
What about public transport?
Avoid it whenever you can. Handrails, buttons, windows, seat fabrics and other surfaces can all become contaminated. If you have to travel on buses, trains or trams, try to avoid rush-hour and other busy times of day, and wash your hands.
What if I am an older person or have a medical condition?
Some people are at much greater risk from coronavirus than others and it is doubly important for them to follow the advice. This includes everyone aged 70 or above, regardless of how healthy they are, and people of any age with specific underlying conditions. The list of medical conditions includes long-term respiratory problems, such as asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); heart disease, such as heart failure; chronic kidney or liver disease; neurological conditions, including Parkinson’s and MS, problems with the spleen, including sickle cell disease, and anyone with a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV/Aids, or on steroids or chemotherapy. People who are obese, with a BMI of 40 or more, and those who are pregnant are also in the high-risk group.
A further group of people at even greater risk from coronavirus and NHS England intends to contact them with specific advice in late March. That group includes people who have had organ replacements and are on immuno-suppressants; those with cancer who are on chemo- or radio-therapy, people with bone marrow or blood cancers, such as leukaemia; those with severe asthma, cystic fibrosis and other serious chest problems, and people with other serious medical conditions, for example those needing kidney dialysis.
The government is expected to issue even stricter advice in the coming weeks, with those aged 70 and over, and other vulnerable groups, being asked to self-isolate at home for 12 weeks. This aims to keep their contact with others to a minimum when the epidemic in the UK reaches its peak.
How do I cope with the boredom?
First of all, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, drinking enough water, and exercising regularly. Try to avoid smoking and drinking alcohol. Open the windows for some ventilation and try to get some natural sunlight. It’s an opportunity to read, listen to the radio, watch TV and pursuing other indoor hobbies.
What if I get the infection?
The most common symptoms are a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature. If you live alone and have either, no matter how mild, stay at home for seven days after symptoms began. If you live with others, everyone in the house must stay at home and not leave for 14 days.
What if others in my house get infected?
The infection is likely to spread from person to person in shared houses. If anyone else starts to show symptoms while already in isolation, they must stay at home for seven days from the moment their own symptoms start, regardless of where they are in the 14-day isolation period.
What if there’s a vulnerable person in the house?
If you can, move them in with friends or family for as long as you are in isolation. But if you can’t it is important to be meticulous about cleaning and handwashing and stay away from them as much as possible. Minimise the amount of time they spend in shared areas, such as kitchens, bathrooms, and sitting areas, and keep those areas well ventilated. The infection can spread through shared towels, crockery, cutlery and other items, so if possible make sure they have their own. If you share a toilet or bathroom, clean all the surfaces after using the facilities.
What if I am breastfeeding?
There is no specific advice on breastfeeding. Babies can pick up the infection, though the evidence so far suggests that children are generally not as badly affected as adults. The government states that the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the potential risks of the virus, but add that it is a personal decision people can discuss with their midwife or health visitor.
What if am not better in seven days?
Keep yourself hydrated and consider painkillers such as paracetamol to help with symptoms. If your condition worsens, or your symptoms don’t improve in seven days, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service, or call NHS 111. In an emergency, call 999.