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How can I protect myself against coronavirus?

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Updated 5th June 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.

In England, groups of six people from different households are allowed to meet up outdoors, provided that social distancing is practised. You are not currently allowed to visit family or friends inside their homes, or stay overnight away from your home (unless you have to because of a work commitment).

You should try to stay home as much as possible, only leaving the house to work (if you cannot work at home), exercise, buy food and other essentials, get medical care, and socialise in small groups.

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. You can order face masks online from LloydsPharmacy.
  • 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 practise 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, you are allowed to go outside. However, you shouldn’t be socialising in groups or going into shops. The NHS recommends the following for clinically extremely vulnerable people living in England:

  • Only leave home to exercise or spend time outdoors e.g. to go for a walk – you should try not to do this more than once a day and preferably at less busy times.
  • Avoid socialising with people you don't live with, crowds and going into shops – it is not safe for you to be around lots of people. You can go to shops with people you live with, on your own or one other person (ideally the same person each time)
  • Stay at least two metres from people in your home whenever you can.
  • Arrange for food and medicine to be delivered to your home – you can register to get coronavirus support on GOV.UK if needed.

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) you should immediately start self-isolating. 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

Learn more here.

Staying healthy

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.