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Page reviewed every weekday. Last update at 15:00 on 29th May 2020.

Self-isolation explained

Self-isolation is an important way to protect yourself and others, and slow down the spread of COVID-19.

You should self-isolate if:

  • you have COVID-19 symptoms
  • you are waiting for a COVID-19 test result
  • you have tested positive for COVID-19
  • you live with someone in the same circumstances

Self-isolation means staying at home and applies to those who have symptoms, or those who live in the same household as someone with symptoms. It is different from social distancing, which refers to the steps you can take to reduce social interaction.

If you have been contacted by the NHS Test and Trace service, please follow the self-isolation guidance on our Testing for COVID-19 page.

How to self-isolate

Watch the video

Practical tips on how to self-isolate

  • Stay at home and keep your home well ventilated
  • Do not leave the house to go to work, school or public places
  • Do not invite visitors into your home
  • Get shopping and medicine delivered to your house by friends, family or delivery services
  • Ask for deliveries to be left outside your house for you to collect, unless delivered by a household member

You can use your garden, if you have one. All exercise should be carried out at home.

    Living with vulnerable individuals

    If you live with someone who is 70 or over, has a long-term condition, is pregnant or has a weakened immune system, try to arrange for them to stay elsewhere with friends or family for 14 days. If this is not possible:

    • Avoid shared spaces for example by using separate bedrooms and bathrooms, and the vulnerable person should eat in their room
    • If you can’t avoid shared spaces, try to keep 2 metres (3 steps) away from each other and keep windows open in any shared spaces
    • Keep toiletries, laundry, cutlery and kitchen utensils separate - for example toothbrushes, sheets, towels, crockery and cups
    • Wash bedding at 60-90°C, and wash cutlery and kitchen utensils thoroughly with soap and warm water or in a dishwasher
    • Disinfect toilets and bathroom surfaces after use and disinfect bedroom surfaces at least once a day
    • Wash your hands before and after using the bathroom and kitchen, and before contact with the vulnerable person

    How long do you need to self-isolate for?

    If you have been advised to self-isolate and you live alone, you need to stay at home for 7 days and avoid contact with other people.

    It is important to remember that you can still pass on COVID-19 even if you do not have symptoms – so you must complete the full 7 day self-isolation period.

    If you still have a fever, runny nose, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of appetite or are sneezing beyond the 7th day, you must continue to self-isolate until these symptoms have gone. Stay at home for at least 48 hours after your nausea or diarrhoea stops. If you continue to have a cough or changes to your sense of smell or taste beyond the 7th day, you do not need to self-isolate for longer as those symptoms can persist once the infection is over and don’t mean you are still infectious.

    Since it is unclear how long immunity to COVID-19 lasts, you and your household must self-isolate if you or someone you live with develops COVID-19 symptoms again. This is necessary even if you or someone you live with tested positive before and/or recovered from suspected COVID-19 symptoms.

      Household isolation

      If you live with others, you need to stay home for 7 days, but everyone else in your household needs to stay home for 14 days from the day your symptoms started or while you are waiting for a test result. This is because it is likely those in your household will already be infected or may become infected in the following days.

      What happens if someone in your family gets sick?


      If others in your household develop symptoms during the isolation period, they must self-isolate for 7 days from the day they first get symptoms, even if it means the self-isolation will extend beyond the original 14 days.

      Household members that don’t get any symptoms during those 14 days can stop self-isolating at the end of that 14 day period.

      The infographic below shows when self-isolation should end for household members.

      How to cope with self-isolation


      Self-isolation can be a challenging time, both mentally and physically. We’ve put together some helpful tips on how to cope with staying at home.

      Read more

      Watch our video guides



      • How to look after someone with COVID-19


      • How to wash your hands


      • How to use hand sanitizer