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Can I go outside at all? Everything you need to know about self-quarantine due to COVID-19.

As the number of local COVID-19 (Novel coronavirus) cases increases, more and more Australians are being advised to quarantine themselves.

A small proportion of them are people who have been diagnosed with Novel coronavirus. Like most, their case is mild enough that they can easily recover at home. Some others have experienced the cold and flu-like symptoms that are typical of the disease, and are awaiting test results.

But the vast majority of these people confined to their homes are perfectly well. Not a sore throat, cough or fever in sight.

Watch: Simple ways to protect yourself from COVID-19.

Video by World Health Organisation

So why is self-quarantine necessary? How long does it last? And what can and can’t you do while isolated?

Let’s take a look.

Who needs to self-quarantine because of COVID-19? And why?

Australian authorities advise that you must quarantine yourself if:

  • you have been in, or travelled through, mainland China or Iran in the last 14 days; or
  • you have been in, or travelled through, South Korea on/after March 5 or Italy on/after March 11;
  • you have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the last 14 days.

Self-quarantine is necessary because there is emerging evidence that people may be able to transmit COVID-19 for a short period before they develop signs of illness.

While that kind of transmission isn’t common, it’s important at-risk people monitor themselves for symptoms and avoid contact with others in case they are infectious.

What does self-quarantine mean exactly? What are the rules?

Even if you are perfectly well and have no symptoms, you have to stay in your home, hotel room, or accommodation for 14 days, unless you require urgent medical attention.

The 14 days begins from when:

  • you departed China, Iran, South Korea or Italy; or
  • you last came into close contact with a COVID-19-infected person.

During the self-quarantine period, you must not attend public places. That includes work, school, TAFE/university, shopping centres, gyms, and so on.

You must also discourage visitors. The only people allowed in your home during this time should be those who usually live there.

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Listen: An expert answers your most pressing COVID-19 questions.

It’s really important that during your self-quarantine, you monitor yourself and those in your household closely for signs of illness.

Typical COVID-19 symptoms to look out for include: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, as well as chills, body aches, sore throat, headache and runny nose, muscle pain, or diarrhoea.  (If you feel unwell, call your doctor for advice on next steps. In an emergency, call 000.)

What if you live with other people? Do they have to self-quarantine?

People you live with are not required to self-quarantine unless they meet one of the criteria outlined above. However, if you or they develop symptoms during the 14 days, that changes. (See advice above.)

Even if you don’t have symptoms, NSW Health advises that you should wear a mask when in the same room as other members of the household and wash your hands thoroughly (for at least 20 seconds), especially:

  • before entering common areas;
  • after using the bathroom;
  • after coughing or sneezing;
  • before putting on and after removing face masks.

You should also avoid sharing household items — particularly cutlery and crockery, drinking glasses, towels, bedding, etc.

If possible, avoid sharing a bathroom or bed with another person.

As far as cleaning goes, the ACT Department of Health advises that there are no special requirements: “However, it is recommended that surfaces which are touched regularly, such as door handles, kitchen and bathroom areas and phones are cleaned frequently using detergent and water or a detergent-based cleaner.”

Can you go outside at all during self-quarantine?

Yes, you can use your balcony, your front/backyard or other outdoor areas on your property.

However, if the outdoor space is used by other people (such as a common-area or courtyard in an apartment block), you are advised to avoid contact with others, wear a surgical mask and thoroughly wash your hands before and after.

That also applies when taking your garbage bins out or checking your letterbox, for example.

Can you walk your dog during self-quarantine?

Health authorities have not given any specific advice on this circumstance. But based on the general advice for self-quarantine, a stroll around your neighbourhood is not advisable.

Dr Sanjaya Senanayake, Infectious Diseases Specialist and Associate Professor at Australian National University Medical School, told Mamamia, “if there is a suspicion [you may have been exposed to the virus] and you are self-isolated, you ideally would want to stay within your premises”.

Instead, ask someone in your household who is not self-quarantined to walk the dog for you or to find someone the dog can stay with for a while. Or if this doesn’t apply, exercise your dog in your home or yard as much as possible. That might include running around with them (which is good for you, too!) or throwing a ball. Remember, it’s only two weeks.

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Can you get food and groceries delivered during self-quarantine?

Yes. However, you are advised to avoid contact with the delivery driver/rider. This means paying online and asking them to leave the order outside your door, so you can collect it once they’ve left. If a signature is essential, wash your hands thoroughly prior to answering the door and wear a surgical mask.

For supplies of medication, contact your pharmacy to discuss options.

How can you keep your spirits up while in self-quarantine?

Queensland Health offers the following advice for maintaining your wellbeing during those 14 days:

  • Talk to the other members of your family about the infection. Understanding Novel coronavirus will reduce anxiety;
  • Reassure young children using age-appropriate language;
  • Keep up a normal daily routine as much as possible;
  • Think about how you have coped with difficult situations in the past and reassure yourself that you will cope with this situation too. Remember that quarantine won’t last for long;
  • Keep in touch with family members and friends via telephone, email or social media;
  • Exercise regularly. Options could include exercise DVDs, dancing, floor exercises, yoga, walking around the backyard or using home exercise equipment, such as a stationary bicycle, if you have it. Exercise is a proven treatment for stress and depression.

What about your work? Will you have to take annual leave for the self-quarantine period?

If you are sick, you are legally entitled to paid sick leave.

But… when it comes to precautionary self-quarantine, things get a little murkier. That’s because there aren’t actually any laws that specifically cover a situation like this.

FairWork advises that it will be up to employers and employees to make their own arrangements.

“If an employee wants to stay at home as a precaution against being exposed to coronavirus, they will need to make a request to work from home (if possible) or to take some form of paid or unpaid leave, such as annual leave or long service leave. These requests are subject to the normal leave application process in the workplace,” FairWork states.

If the situation is reversed, and an employer wants to temporarily stop full- or part-time staff from working, FairWork advises that “the employee would ordinarily be entitled to be paid while subject to the direction”.

For more information, visit the FairWork website. If you have an urgent query about your rights as an employer or employee, contact FairWork.

What happens after the 14 days is up?

If you have self-quarantined for 14 days without any symptoms, you can typically return to your usual activities. However, it’s advisable that you phone your doctor to discuss your health before doing so.

If you were you were issued a notice to self-quarantine by a health authority, you may have received contact during your quarantine, and if so will likely be contacted at the end of the 14 days to discuss your health.

If you are seeking information on COVID-19, call the Australian Government Department of Health’s Coronavirus Health Information Line on 1800 020 080. It operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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