Can I go outside? How is self-isolation enforced? Your quarantine questions answered

Woman sneezing into handkerchief.
ABC Health & Wellbeing By Emma Elsworthy and health reporter Olivia Willis With measures ramping up to control the spread of coronavirus, increasing numbers of people are being required to self-isolate in Australia.

Key points:

  • Self-isolation or quarantine is crucial to stop the rapid spread of coronavirus and enforceable by hefty fines
  • You must stay home as much as possible but a short walk with a mask each day is fine
  • If you're travelling home from the airport, personal transport is recommended
You need to self-isolate in your home (or a hotel) if you think you have been in contact with a person infected with COVID-19, or if you arrived from overseas after March 15, even if you're showing no symptoms.
That's because it can take up to two weeks for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear — although most commonly they show after five days.
Self-isolation is not the same as social distancing, which just involves avoiding large crowds (but still going to work or school) and minimising physical contact.

If required to self-isolate, you need to stay at home to reduce the risk of transmission. No public places like work, school, childcare or university, and no public gatherings.
Police have the power to force people to comply with self-isolation, with fines of up to $63,000 for people who flout the rules.
Elsewhere, self-isolation has helped curb the increase of coronavirus transmission, with cases steadying in places like China and South Korea.

How to self isolate?

The goal of self-isolation is to put as much distance between you and other people as possible.
Only people who usually live in your household should be in the home, so it's important you don't have visitors during the isolation period. If you are in a hotel, you should avoid contact with other guests or staff.
If you're self-isolating but feeling well, there is no need to wear a surgical mask at home.
However, if you must leave the house, such as for a medical appointment, wear a mask if you have one to protect others.
Where possible, ask friends, family or neighbours who are not in isolation to pick up food and necessities for you, and leave them at your front door.
To minimise the spread of germs (especially if you live with others), you should regularly clean frequently-touched surfaces (like door knobs) and wash your hands — frequently and thoroughly.

Can I share a bed with my partner?

While you're in self-isolation, health authorities also advise against sleeping in the same bed as your partner.
People living with you are not required to be isolated as well, unless they also meet one of the isolation criteria (outlined above).
However, if you develop symptoms and are suspected to have COVID-19, they will be classified as close contacts and will then need to be isolated like you were.

What if I'm suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19?

It's important to monitor for symptoms including fever, cough, sore throat, tiredness and shortness of breath.
If you develop symptoms during the isolation period, you should arrange to see your doctor for an assessment.

Most searched questions on social isolation, past 48 hours in Australia

  1. What does self isolation mean?
  2. How does self isolation work?
  3. How is self isolation enforced?
  4. How to self isolate.
  5. Will Australia go into isolation?
  6. What are the rules of self isolation?
  7. Who pays for self isolation?
  8. Is self isolation sick leave?
  9. Will Australia go into lockdown?
  10. Will I get paid for self isolation?
Source: Google Trends
(Remember, you need to telephone your local health clinic or hospital before you arrive, to tell them your travel history or that you have been in contact with a potential case of coronavirus.)
If you're suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, you may be required to self-isolate at home (rather than hospital) if you're well enough.
In this case, you should wear a mask while you're inside your home when other people are present.
Other people living in the home should consider staying elsewhere. If that's not possible, you should stay in a different room from them and be separated as much as you can.
Use a separate bathroom, if you're lucky enough to have one, and wear a surgical mask when you're in communal areas like the lounge room or kitchen.

How do I get home from the airport when I self-isolate?

You should wear a mask on the trip home from the airport, whether you are showing symptoms of coronavirus or not.
It's recommended that you use personal transport, such as a car, to minimise exposure to others.
If you need to use public transport, taxis or ride-share services, it's important to avoid direct contact with other passengers (and drivers), and to practice good personal hygiene, in addition to wearing a face mask.
If you are showing symptoms of the virus and have not been tested, you should call your doctor or the National Coronavirus Helpline on 1800 020 080.

Can I go outside while in self-isolation?

Try not to leave the house — but a walk around the block with a mask is relatively low-risk and can be a welcome relief once a day.
If you live in a private house, it is safe for you to go outside into your garden or courtyard.
If you live in an apartment or flat and have access to a common garden, balcony or courtyard, wear a surgical mask while you're out there.

What do I do while I stay home?

It's important that you look after your mental health during this time, including maintaining a normal routine as much as possible.
Exercise each day is advisable, and can be done in the privacy of your room using YouTube exercise tutorials or by walking around your home or garden.
Reach out to friends and family using the telephone or social media to stay connected and relieve loneliness.

What are the rules of self isolation and how is it enforced?

So far most people asked to self-isolate have been willing to comply and there are yet to be any reports of people facing criminal charges for refusing to do so.
However, the police do have the option to impose some hefty penalties for those who repeatedly refuse.
In New South Wales, breaching an order to isolate carries a maximum penalty of $11,000 and six months' imprisonment.
In Queensland, you can be fined up to $13,345 and face other penalties, while in South Australia, the maximum penalty for failing to comply is $25,000.
In Western Australia, those ignoring a public health order face imprisonment of 12 months or a fine of $50,000; in Tasmania the maximum fine is $8,400.
The Commonwealth also has the power to issue a "human biosecurity control order" under the Biosecurity Act.
If such an order is imposed, individuals who fail to comply face penalties of about $63,000, five years in prison, or both.
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March 17, 2020

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