Self-isolation: what you need to know

What does self-isolation mean in practice?

Who needs to self-isolate?

When the clock strikes 12midnight on Sunday 15 March, the new restrictions on travel come into force, which mean that any arrival at the New Zealand border must go into self-isolation for 14 days, with the exception of people coming from the Pacific islands.

Is anyone in isolation already?
To date more than 10,000 people have registered for self-isolation in New Zealand with Healthline. Around two-thirds of those have completed the fortnight.

Who are they? 
Those new rules don’t come into force until midnight Sunday 15 March 2020
Anyone returning from mainland China, Iran, Italy or South Korea is already required to complete self-isolation. As is anyone displaying symptoms of illness coming from a clutch of other countries. And then there’s the “close contacts” of anyone confirmed as having Covid-19.

How is self-isolation defined?
The Ministry of Health defines self-isolation as “staying away from situations where you could infect other people”. Specifically, it means any situation where you may come in close contact with others.

And how is “close contact” defined?
That’s face-to-face contact with another person who is within one metre for more than 15 minutes. The ministry offers the following scenarios to avoid: “social gatherings, work, school, childcare/pre-school centres, university, polytechnic and other education providers, faith-based gatherings, aged care and health care facilities, prisons, sports gatherings, restaurants and all public gatherings.”

Can I open the window?
Yes, of course you can open the window. You can sit outside. You can even go for a walk. Just avoid public spaces. Don’t join a mosh pit or parade.

What about getting food or medicine?
The Ministry of Health advises, “where possible, contact a friend, family member or delivery services to carry out errands like supermarket shopping on your behalf.”
Some people just don’t have those networks. For others the whole idea of self-isolating will look financially ruinous. Still others have dependents they need to attend to. Anything to help them?
Nothing concrete, but the prime minister did promise that she’d announce early next week a bunch of measures to help people in such situations. “We will also increase community support to those unable to support themselves in isolation,” she said.

What about the mental strain?
“It is normal to feel stressed or lonely when self-isolating, but there are some things you can do to feel better,” says the advice. “Reach out to your usual supports, like family and friends, and talk about how you feel. We also recommend sticking to a routine such as having regular mealtimes, bedtimes and exercising.
“If you feel you are not coping, it is important to talk with a health professional. For support with grief, anxiety, distress or mental wellbeing, you can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.”

What if you start to feel sick?
First up, please call Healthline on 0800 358 5453 or the practice on 8274234. Please do not just turn up to the practice. Our staff need time to prepare to see you by wearing the appropriate protective equipment.

How is this self-quarantine thing policed?
It’s not “policed” per se. This is not internment. you won’t be assigned a parole office
Ardern says that all incoming passengers will fill in a form with their personal details, and receive a briefing from a nurse on self-isolation requirements. That information will then be provided to Healthline (0800 358 5453 or +64 9 358 5453), who will call to check on your status. Officials have been asked to “step up enforcement of self isolation through measures such as spot checks”.

What if people aren’t abiding by the requirements?
“If you don’t self-isolate there are quarantine powers available to us,” Ardern said on Q+A. “We can put you in a medical facility and monitor your movements … We can put someone on the door to make sure you don’t leave. Those are powers we haven’t had to use and I do not anticipate having to use, but they do exist.”

Why 14 days?
Because that’s plenty enough time for any symptoms to present.
Can you stay in the same house as others?
Yes, with a whole bunch of buts. Keep contact with other people to a minimum, and certainly under the one metre for 15 minutes threshold. Don’t share anything you use for eating or drinking, or towels, or pillows. Wash everything you use thoroughly with soap and water, is the official advice, then put them in the dishwasher or washing machine. You can probably work out which goes where.

What about visitors?
The ministry says: “You should avoid having visitors to your home, but it is okay for friends, family or delivery drivers to drop off food.”

How are you supposed to head home for self-isolation from the airport? Taxi? Bus?
A private car is ideal. The official advice is that if necessary you can use public transport. Try to sit in a row alone. Whatever you do, the golden rule is no face-to-face for 15 or more minutes with anyone within a metre.

What about people arriving in NZ who have to fly domestic to their destination or other transport connections?
Here’s the advice from the Ministry of Health: “You may need to travel across New Zealand to your accommodation, for example, by plane, train or bus. Where possible, sit in a window seat in a row by yourself. If you are unwell you should seek advice from Healthline before you travel.
“While travelling make sure you use hand sanitiser regularly. If you need to cough or sneeze, cover your mouth or nose, or you can cough and sneeze into your sleeve.”

What about all the people at airports, and what about people who just ignore the rules?
Again, the critical thing to remember is this is not internment and you won’t be assigned a parole officer. It will be imperfect. But combined with hand-washing, social distancing, an uptick in testing and generally staying away from other people if you’re ill, the border measures are about about throttling the spread – “flattening the curve” and “stopping the spread” .

(Source: The Spin-off and Ministry of Health)


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