Social distancing vs self-isolation

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

The phrases social distancing and self-isolation are becoming a common part of our vocabulary. Prior to the COVID-19 crisis we rarely heard these terms used. What exactly do they both mean? Let’s explore each of these and find out what you need to do.


Self-isolation means staying at home or in your hotel room for 14 days. This is to prevent the possible spread of the virus to other people.

You must self-isolate if any of the following applies to you:

  • you have COVID-19
  • you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19
  • you arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020

What if I’m feeling well?

If you need to self-isolate and you are feeling well make sure you are checking for symptoms such as:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • tiredeness
  • shortness of breath

Other symptoms to watch out for include chills, body aches, runny nose and muscle pain.

What should I do if I start to feel sick?

If you start to experience the symptoms mentioned above you should speak with your doctor urgently for assessment.

We advise you to telephone your doctor’s surgery, health clinic or hospital for further advice. Let them know that you are self-isolating and follow their instruction.

Can I go outside when self-isolating

Yes, you can go outside but it is important to follow these recommendations:

If you live in a private house – you can go into the garden or courtyard only.

If you live in an apartment or are staying in a hotel – you can go into the garden but you should wear a face mask to minimise the risk to others and move quickly through any common areas.

Being isolated means you need to stay at home. You can’t leave the house to visit public areas including work, school, childcare or university. Do not see visitors.

If you have others living with you, they will not need to self-isolate unless you have COVID-19 or they have arrived in Australia after midnight on 15 March 2020.

You must remain in your home, hotel or a health care setting until public health authorities tell you it is safe to return to your usual activities.

Social distancing

Social distancing is different to self-isolation. Social distancing should be applied if you have to go out in public. It simply means you should increase the physical space between yourself and other people to avoid spreading the virus. Keep at least six feet or 1.5 meters between you and the person you standing near.

You should also avoid mass gatherings, work from home where possible, and communicate with friends and loved ones electronically instead of in person.


Suzanne Leahy, Credentialled Diabetes Educator

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