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Self-isolating with the Coronavirus: what to do and when to do it

Patient Information

If you feel you have the symptoms of Coronavirus (Covid-19), however mild, then you should self-isolate (i.e. stay at home). The most common symptoms are a new continuous cough and/or a high temperature. For most of us, Covid-19 is a mild illness but for the over-70s and those with an underlying health condition, it can be serious and even fatal. Even if you do not fall into one of these categories, self-isolating will help stop the spread of the disease to the most vulnerable.

If you think you have Coronavirus but your symptoms are not serious then you do not need to get tested.

How long should you stay at home?

If you live alone and have symptoms of Coronavirus you’ll need to stay at home for seven days. If, after seven days, you do not have a high temperature then you do not need to stay at home. If you still have a high temperature you will need to stay at home until it returns to normal. You do not need to stay at home after seven days if you still have a cough as this can last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

If you live with someone who has the symptoms you’ll need to stay at home for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. This is because it can take 14 days for symptoms to appear. If more than one person at home has symptoms, stay at home for 14 days from the day the first person started having symptoms. If you get symptoms, stay at home for seven days from when your symptoms start, even if it means you’re at home for longer than 14 days.

How to self-isolate?

In short, self-isolating means staying at home. You should:

  • not go to work, school or public areas
  • not use public transport or taxis
  • not have visitors, such as friends and family, in your home
  • not go out to buy food or collect medicine – order them by phone or online, or ask someone else to drop them off at your home. Ask them to leave the items outside your house.

You can use your garden if you have one. You can also leave the house to exercise – but stay at least two metres away from other people.

If you have symptoms and live with a vulnerable person

If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to arrange for them to stay with friends or family for 14 days. If you have to stay at home together then you should:

  • try to keep two metres (three steps) away from each other
  • avoid using shared spaces, such as kitchens or bathrooms at the same time as each other.
  • open windows in shared spaces if you can
  • clean a shared bathroom each time you use it, for example by wiping the surfaces you have touched.
  • Use a dishwasher if you have one – if you do not have one, use washing-up liquid and warm water and dry everything thoroughly.

Do not share a bed if possible and do not share towels, including hand and tea towels.

Reducing the spread of infection in your house

While you’re staying at home, you should:

  • wash your hands with soap and water often, for at least 20 seconds
  • use hand sanitiser gel if soap and water are not available
  • cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when you cough or sneeze
  • put used tissues in the bin straight away and wash your hands afterwards
  • clean objects and surfaces you touch often (like door handles, kettles and phones) using your regular cleaning products

How to do your cleaning and laundry

Use your usual household products, such as detergents and bleach, when you clean your home. Put used tissues and disposable cleaning cloths in rubbish bags and then put the bag into a second bag and tie it securely. Wait 3 days before putting it in your outside bin. You can dispose of other household waste as normal.

Wash your laundry in the washing machine in the usual way. Laundry that has been in contact with an ill person can be washed with other people’s items. Do not shake dirty laundry, as this may spread the virus in the air.

If you do not have a washing machine, wait for 3 days after your stay at home has ended before taking your laundry to a launderette.

Looking after your health and wellbeing

To help yourself stay well while you’re at home:

  • drink plenty of water to stay hydrated – drink enough so your pee is pale and clear
  • take paracetamol to help ease your symptoms
  • stay in touch with family and friends over the phone or on social media, to help you avoid feeling low or lonely
  • try to keep yourself busy – you could try activities like cooking, reading, online learning and watching films
  • do light exercise, if you feel well enough to

You can read the NHS’s advice about mental health and wellbeing and see their page on easy exercises for some exercises you can do at home.

Ibuprofen

There is currently no strong evidence that ibuprofen can make the Coronavirus worse. However, until there is further information, take paracetamol to treat the symptoms unless your doctor has told you paracetamol is not suitable for you. If you are already taking ibuprofen or another non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) on the advice of a doctor, do not stop taking it without checking first.

What to do if you need medical help if you have to stay at home

If you get symptoms not related to Coronavirus and need medical help:

  • do not go to a GP surgery, pharmacy or hospital
  • if it’s not an emergency, use the NHS 111 online service – call 111 if you cannot get help online
  • if it’s an emergency, call 999 – tell the call handler you may have Coronavirus

Cancel all routine face-to-face medical and dental appointments while you’re staying at home. You may be able to do some appointments over the phone.

Use the NHS 111 online Coronavirus service if:

  • you feel you cannot cope with your symptoms at home
  • your condition gets worse

Use the 111 coronavirus service – only call 111 if you cannot get help online.


St John and St Elizabeth Hospital is not a testing or treatment facility for Coronavirus. If you have symptoms of a cough and/ or fever, then please do not visit.

Our services remain open throughout the pandemic, for appointments with a GP or Consultant please call our Contact Centre on +44 20 7806 4000.