What are Self-Isolation and Social Distancing? And What Do They Mean for Healthcare Professionals?

As the concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19 really hit home, governments around the world are advising people to self-isolate in a bid to contain the virus. In Australia, the latest advice is to practice good hygiene and social distancing, working from home wherever possible and, where required, to self-quarantine. Additionally, any citizens currently out of Australia have been advised to seriously consider coming home—with numerous implications for what travellers should do once they are back in the country.

 However, as these terms are bandied around, confusion is arising as to their exact meaning.

Who should be self-isolating and who should simply keep their distance from others?  Additionally, with potential fines for those who do not obey the rules, plus the very real possibility of unknowingly transmitting the virus to others, it seems more important than ever to know the right course of action.

 It also leaves healthcare professionals in particular—although other essential service providers are also affected—with few options when it comes to their own behaviour and routines. Naturally, healthcare professionals are on the front line of the fight against COVID-19, and neither social distancing nor self-isolation seem viable.

What Does Social Distancing Mean?

Put simply, social distancing aims to maintain space between you and other people without taking the more drastic measures of isolation. This means you can still go to work or school, use public transport, and head to the store. Ideally, you should aim to maintain no less than 1.5 metres between you and the next person, however, achieving this while out and about is almost impossible—particularly on public transport.

What social distancing does aim to achieve, however, is to minimize transmission through large crowds and public gatherings. Additionally, social distancing dictates that you should also avoid physical interactions, such as shaking hands, hugging and kissing. Social distancing also applies most pertinently to vulnerable people, and the elderly or those with compromised immune systems should practice the strictest forms of social distancing. 

What Does Self-Isolation Mean?

 Self-isolation is, on the other hand, much more limiting. Most people required to self-isolate will have either been infected, been in close contact with someone who is infected, or who have recently returned from a country as listed as a risky by the Australian government. Additionally, as seen in multiple European countries over the last days, national lockdowns may be enforced, requiring all citizens (bar those who perform essential services) to self-isolate.

For those who are not infected, self-isolation means only leaving the house in an emergency, to go to the supermarket or pharmacy, or to attend a doctor’s appointment or hospital. For those who believe they are infected, or who have been in contact with anyone who has the virus, self-isolation means only leaving the house to attend a doctor’s appointment or hospital. It is also important to note that self-isolation should be practices while waiting for any test results related to COVID-19.

Wherever possible, self-isolation should also be practiced within the home. This can mean remaining in a single room of the house and minimizing contact with others who share your space (family members, flat mates). Sharing a bed is not advised, and the others sharing the same house or apartment should also wash their hands and disinfect any shared surfaces regularly. Additionally, visitors should not be allowed onto the property.

 In the case of the novel coronavirus, self-isolation is usually required for 14 days, although this may be extended depending on the severity of the situation. Additionally, during national lockdowns, citizens should always defer to the latest advice from the government as to how long they should self-isolate.

What Does Social Distancing and Self-Isolation Mean for Healthcare Professionals?

 For those on the front line in the fight against COVID-19, both social distancing and self-isolation should be practiced when required. Naturally, keeping a distance of 1.5 metres between patients and co-workers is impossible, however, due to increased exposure to the virus, social distancing should be maintained in every other aspect of your life.

If you are showing symptoms, it is important to make this known as early as possible and, if the resources are available, to get tested immediately. During this period, healthcare professionals should also practice self-isolation until the test results are received. More information can be found here

For more information on the latest guidance and advice on COVID-19 stay tuned to the Medshop blog or visit the Australian Government Department of Health website. Finally, we here at Medshop want to wish strength and patience to the citizens of Australia and the rest of the world. By working together and showing increased social responsibility, we have a greater chance to minimize the impact of the virus.

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