How can I protect myself against coronavirus?
Updated 15th October 2020 - We recommend the coronavirus page on the NHS website for more up to date information.
The COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020 and remains an ongoing health crisis around the globe. While the vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 won’t become seriously ill, the virus can occasionally cause life-threatening complications necessitating hospitalisation.
For this reason, it’s important that everybody takes precautions to avoid becoming infected. This is particularly important if you are classed as clinically vulnerable.
How to protect yourself from coronavirus
The first thing to do is familiarise yourself with local guidelines, bearing in mind that these will be different whether you live in England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, or are experiencing a local lockdown.
In England, you can meet people you do not live with indoors and outdoors as long as the group is no larger than 6 (unless you are meeting as a household or support bubble). You'll need to maintain social distancing outdoors and indoors with anyone not in your household or support bubble.
Please note: guidance is designed for people living in England but may differ depending on what alert level the area you live in falls under. If you are living in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland you should follow local guidance.
When you are not in your home…
- Keep your distance from people you don’t live with – a gap of two metres (roughly three steps) is recommended.
- Don’t pass food, drink or cookware to people you don’t live with – group barbecues and picnics are allowed, but each household should bring their own crockery and cutlery or ensure you have thoroughly cleaned them before using.
- Avoid talking face-to-face with people you don’t live with – you are more likely to be exposed to respiratory droplets when you face someone directly.
- Avoid crowds – if you turn up to a public area and find lots of people there, you should leave.
- Try not to use public transport – where possible, walk, cycle or drive. If you have to use public transport, avoid travelling at peak times. You can learn more about travelling safely on public transport here.
- Wear a face covering – over your nose and mouth is recommended when you’re in a crowded public area or enclosed space. You can order face masks online from LloydsPharmacy. In England face coverings are compulsory in shops, restaurants, indoor shopping centres, banks, post offices and supermarkets, and other settings.
- Carry hand sanitiser – this can be used to clean your hands when you don’t have access to running water and soap.
When you are in your home…
- Wash your hands when you come in from outside – you should do this every time you return home. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap, for at least 20 seconds.
- Keep your home clean – this means wiping down communal surfaces such as counters, door handles, phones and keyboards. Take extra care keeping communal bathrooms clean.
- Wash your clothes regularly – the virus can stay alive on fabric for several days.
- Be cautious about having guests in your garden – you are allowed to do this, but you should practice social distancing while they are present. If they need to use the toilet, make sure it is cleaned afterwards.
Guidance for clinically extremely vulnerable people
If you’ve received a letter from the NHS informing you that you’re clinically extremely vulnerable, the guidance for how to protect against coronavirus will be slightly different. This is because your risk of serious complications from the virus is higher than for other people.
The good news is that you don't need to shield at the moment unless there is a lockdown in your local area. The NHS recommends the following for clinically extremely vulnerable people living in England:
- You should work from home if possible
- If you have to go into work your employer should make suitable arrangements
- You can go to shops, restaurants and other public spaces. You should wear a face covering when it's hard to stay away from people
- You can meet outside with people you don't live with, in groups of six as long as you socially distance
- You can meet people indoors but only meet with one other household at a time and stay at least two metres away from each other
- You can meet with one other household if you live alone and form a support bubble, you don't need to socially distance from them
For more information on what you can and can't do click here.
What to do if you fall ill
If you start experiencing the symptoms of COVID-19 (see below) or you have a positive test result, you should immediately start self-isolating for 10 days. This means you have to stay home, and you cannot go outside to exercise or buy food. It’s a good idea to contact anyone you’ve been in close contact within the last 48 hours to let them know that you’re having symptoms and that they should get tested as soon as possible.
You can treat symptoms at home by resting, drinking lots of water, and taking over-the-counter painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. If you’re concerned about your symptoms, use the NHS 111 online coronavirus service.
The key symptoms of COVID-19 are:
- High temperature
- A new, continuous cough
- Loss of (or change to) your sense of taste and smell
In addition to all of the above, you should try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. This will not prevent you from contracting the virus, but generally being in good health means you are less likely to become seriously ill.
Try to exercise regularly, get lots of sleep, eat a balanced diet, and avoid drinking too much alcohol. If you haven’t been able to get outside in the sun, you can take supplements containing vitamin D – the NHS recommends 10mcg a day if you’re indoors most of the time. Just remember that vitamins and supplements should never be treated as a replacement for a balanced diet.