By Dr. Bilal Shirazi | 30 Mar 2020

How to Self-Quarantine Effectively

As countries and global citizens continue to come to terms with and try to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, in the coming weeks and months many of us may find ourselves needing to self-quarantine.


Why are People Being Asked to do This?

While the World Health Organisation (WHO) and governments around the world are working quickly to develop vaccines and understand which treatments are effective against COVID-19, at present the most effective way to slow the spread of the disease is by observing isolation and self-quarantine practices. This is particularly important if you you’ve potentially been exposed to or are exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

As a result many governments are asking citizens to self-quarantine if they may have been exposed to the virus, for example if they have recently returned from abroad or have been in contact with someone who is infected. You should check with your local authority for further information about who needs to self-quarantine in your community.

What’s the Difference Between Self-Quarantine and Self-Isolation?

While some individuals have been using these terms interchangeably, there are differences between them.

  • Self-quarantine is the act of quarantining yourself if you believe you may have been exposed to someone infected with COVID-19. Depending on your location, you may be required to be tested for COVID-19 or be asked to avoid all contact with others. In most countries you will be asked to stay at home, although some will require you to be quarantined at a specific facility or on arrival in the country. After a specified period, which will depend on your location but is often no more than 14 days, if you are not showing the symptoms of COVID-19 or test negative for the virus, you can leave your quarantine.
  • Self-isolation is the act of isolating either yourself or your entire household if you or anyone you live with exhibits symptoms of COVID-19. Guidance on how long you should self-isolate for differs between countries but between seven and 14 days are the common timeframes being advised. In most cases, citizens who are self-isolating will do so at home as their symptoms will be mild, although if your symptoms escalate you should seek medical attention.

In addition to the timescales described above, some countries are advising that citizens at higher risk of developing serious illness as a result of COVID-19, such as the elderly and those with underlying health conditions, self-quarantine or isolate for longer periods.

Whichever of these you are doing, the guidance on how you should go about it is the same. So how you can self-quarantine effectively?

Minimising Contact with Others

For your self-quarantine to be effective, it is essential that you minimise contact with other people. Ideally you will have zero physical contact and avoid being within two metres of people.

When You Live Alone

If you live alone, minimising contact with others should be easy to do. You should arrange for a friend or family member to do your shopping for you, or shop for groceries online if you can. When these are delivered, ask the person bringing your shopping to knock, leave your goods at the door, and then take a step back. You can still see and speak to people but should maintain a two-metre distance when doing so, and they should not enter your home.

When You Live with Others

It can be trickier to minimise contact if you live with others, which is why some authorities are advising the entire household to self-quarantine or isolate for a specific period.

However, if you are the only person in your home exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms, then ideally you should quarantine yourself alone in a specific room. You should always stay in the room, only leaving to use the bathroom. If you will be sharing a bathroom, someone in your home should ensure shared surfaces such as taps and wash basins are sanitized after use.

If your home has more than one bathroom, designate one of them for your exclusive use, and try to avoid contact with surfaces around the house or other people when moving between rooms. Food should be left at the door of the room you are quarantining in, in the same way as a food delivery would be dropped off if you lived alone.

Maintaining High Hygiene Standards

Whether you live alone or with others, it is crucial that you maintain high standards of personal hygiene while self-quarantining.

In addition to following the widely shared guidance around washing your hands and what to do if you cough or sneeze, you should also look to keep surfaces around your home clean and sanitized. COVID-19 has been shown to be able to survive on hard surfaces for days, but can be killed by household cleaning products. Smartphones are notorious for carrying bacteria and germs, so ensure you clean that, too.

If you live with others, encourage them to follow the same high standards as yourself.

Keep Yourself Busy with Variety

One of the biggest challenges of self-quarantine is how you deal with boredom and maintain your mental wellbeing.

While it can be tempting to binge on Netflix boxsets for days, it is recommended that you ensure you have some variety in what you’re doing. This might mean turning the TV off to read a book or a magazine, playing a videogame, or if you’re quarantining as a family finding things to do together, such as board games.

Your self-quarantine could even be a great opportunity to discover a new hobby or interest, such as learning a language.

Try to Take Some Exercise

Despite some evidence that COVID-19 can live in the air for several hours, in some locations you’re still able to use your garden if you’re in self-quarantine. In others, you’re even allowed to leave your home provided you maintain distance from others.

While you don’t necessarily need to do a strenuous workout, even a walk around the garden to open up your joints and and enjoy some fresh air will make a difference to both your physical and mental wellbeing. If you have a small garden, even just sitting outdoors will bring benefits.

Stay in Touch with People

Modern technology has provided us with all the tools to ensure that while we may be quarantined or isolated, we don’t have to be isolated from other people completely.

Use social media to keep up to date with friends and organise phone calls and group video chats so you maintain a feeling of being connected and seeing people rather than simply interacting via written text. Take advantage of being able to connect with friends via videogames and mobile games too. Some of your friends may be self-quarantining as well so you can find ways to keep each other company remotely.

Ending Your Self Quarantine

When you’re able to end your own self-quarantine, check-in with others who may now be doing this and do what you can to help them manage the situation, whether that’s by getting their shopping or being available to talk on the phone.

If you’re in doubt as to whether you need to self-quarantine or isolate, you should check the advice from your local or national health authority and act in accordance with their guidance.