11 Mar 2020

Dos and Don'ts of self isolation - your questions answered

From First Up, 5:54 am on 11 March 2020

The information in this story has been overtaken by events as the government placed New Zealand on a nationwide lockdown at 11.59pm 25 March 2020 to curb the spread of Covid-19.  Please go to RNZ's Covid-19 news page for the latest coverage, and you can find full government information here.

The main measure to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus has so far been the isolation of people believed to be at risk. Here's a guide with all you need to know about self-isolation. 

Young woman spending a relaxing day at home lying on her back on the bed reading a message on her mobile phone

Photo: 123rf

New Zealand authorities have called for anyone who has arrived in New Zealand from any country in the last 14 days to self-isolate for 14 days. In addition, if a person has been in close contact with someone confirmed with Covid-19, that person needs to self-isolate for 14 days from the date of contact.  

All travellers arriving in New Zealand must now self-isolate for 14 days. The only people exempt from the self-isolation rule are people from small South Pacific island nations which have no confirmed Covid-19 cases.​  

The risk of infection is very low if you have not been in contact with someone infected with Covid-19. 

RNZ spoke to Public Health Professor Michael Baker, a specialist in infectious diseases, about the do's and don'ts while isolating.

  • If you have symptoms of the coronavirus, call the NZ Covid-19 Healthline on 0800 358 5453 (+64 9 358 5453 for international SIMs)

The symptoms of Covid-19 are cough, fever, and shortness of breath. People not sure if they should isolate have been advised to contact the Healthline instead of showing up to hospitals or general practices, to minimise the chance of spreading the virus. 

If you are self-isolating and feel you are not coping, it is important to talk with a health professional. For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 - free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week - to talk with a trained counsellor.

So you need to self-isolate, what does that mean? 

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Photo: RNZ/Philippa Tolley

You need to stay away from all situations where you could infect other people, Prof Baker says. 

This means any situation where you may come in close contact with others (face-to-face contact closer than one metre for more than 15 minutes). 

Avoid social gatherings, work, school, child care/pre-school centres, university, polytechnic and other education providers, faith-based gatherings, aged care and health care facilities, prisons, sports gatherings, restaurants and all public gatherings.

"This is what is going to keep New Zealand safe so we have to take it seriously," Prof Baker says. 

"Regard it as a bit of a holiday and something you probably will never do again, so make the most of it."

Living with others

"Use your own bathroom if you can, although that may be difficult. If you can't, wipe down surfaces after you use them. Make sure you have separate items like plates and cutlery from your flatmates."

He says it is probably not necessary for everyone in the house to be isolated. 

"They would not generally need to. If you developed symptoms at a certain point and became a case they certainly would need to at that point."

The key message is to stick out the full 14 days, he says.

"You really won't know if you're well until you've been in quarantine for the whole period," he says.  

"So the problem could be after a few days you feel good, [then if you] go out and socialise and then develop symptoms ... by that stage you may have infected people." 

Can I still look after my pets and can they carry the virus?

Black labrador retreiver greyhound mix dog sitting outside  watching waiting alert looking happy excited while panting smiling and staring at camera

Photo: 123RF

Prof Baker says it's fine to care for pets. 

"Yes, if you don't have symptoms you're very unlikely to infect a pet, there are accounts of some animals being infected with Covid-19, but this is probably a very unusual event." 

He says people in isolation can even take the dog for a walk, if they don't stop to talk to anyone. 

"I think people would be encouraged to get out and walk around and get some exercise, it's not like home detention - it's different to that."

Doing the gardening, talking to neighbours?

Senior woman with gardening tool working in her backyard garden.

Photo: 123RF

"The general guideline is keeping a metre away from people - particularly across the fence, just keep your distance," Prof Baker says. 

"I'm sure the neighbours will want to keep their distance as well."

He says people living in an apartment, are probably fine to use the balcony, too. 

"I think so, really that would be a very remote risk of transferring infection in that setting."

Food and shopping

Hands holding credit card and using laptop. Online shopping

Photo: 123rf

Many people have been stocking up on supplies, but Prof Baker says groceries could be ordered online and delivered to the door. 

"I think you could meet them and just ask them to leave them on the door step, potentially they could bring them in as well and deposit them in the kitchen if that was useful or wherever you want them."

He says it's a good idea to minimise people's contact with surfaces you may have touched, however. 

"Unless you have symptoms you're very unlikely to contaminate surfaces very much but in general you don't want people touching things that you've touched recently. The virus can survive for several days on hard surfaces, you really want to minimise people touching things you have."

Fast food drive-through is probably not a good idea, either. 

"You really don't want to be exposing people to surfaces you could have contaminated."