This article was first published on 19.03.20 and updated on 02.11.20.
When we first published this article, the UK was just going into a full nationwide lockdown, with the public told by the Prime Minister that they “must stay at home“. At the same time in Australia, lockdown restrictions were being progressively implemented by the Australian government to restrict movement and reduce opportunities to gather with other people outside households.
At that time, we all knew about washing our hands regularly for at least 20 seconds, whilst joyfully singing two choruses of happy birthday. We knew to avoid unnecessary travel or social contact, to work from home if we could, to avoid mass social gatherings and to self-isolate if we had any symptoms. But I don’t think any of us truly believed that eight months later, the pandemic would still have such a strong hold on the world and such a huge impact on all of our lives.
Earth Collective’s roots are in both the UK and Australia, so our team feels the impact of the virus in these two countries the most. While Victoria is just recovering from one of the toughest lockdowns in the world, emerging as a global leader in disease suppression alongside the likes of Singapore, Vietnam, South Korea, New Zealand and Hong Kong, England is just about to head into another national lockdown for a month.
And so, the original message from this article still stands today, all these months later. And that is – politics, comparisons and opinions aside – let’s all stop for a minute and think about the bigger picture; about how we can help and support ourselves and each other through an experience that none of us have ever been through before; about the importance of human kindness and compassion in times of crisis; and about how to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our fellow humans safe.
What should I do if I think I have coronavirus?
(Note: All information is correct at the time of re-publication.)
In the UK
- You can check your symptoms online at the NHS 111 symptom checker. You can also get an isolation note for your employer here.
- Coronavirus symptoms are listed as:
- a high temperature;
- a new, continuous cough; AND/OR
- a loss of, or change to, your sense of smell or taste.
- The symptom checker will advise you whether you need to book a call with a nurse from the COVID clinical response service.
- You can also request a free NHS test to check if you have coronavirus, if you have one of the symptoms listed above, if you’ve been asked by a local council, if you’re taking part in a government pilot project, or if you’re due to have surgery or a procedure in hospital.
- If you are getting a test because have symptoms of coronavirus, you and anyone you live with will need to self-isolate until you get your results (which is usually within 48 hours).
- You must also self-isolate for 14 days if you cannot get a test, or if you live with a person who has symptoms of coronavirus or has had a positive test result, or if you have been in close contact with, but do not live with, a person who has tested positive for COVID-19 (more on that here).
- Like the UK, Australia also has a symptom checker, which can be found here.
- Australia considers symptoms of coronavirus to include:
- sore throat
- shortness of breath
- If the symptom checker advises you to see medical help or get tested for coronavirus, you can call the National Coronavirus Helpline for advice on 1800 020 080. If you need to see a doctor or go to the hospital, call ahead to book and be sure to follow precautions when you attend for treatment, for example, wear a mask to protect others. Stay 1.5 metres away from other people (the advice is 2 metres in the UK).
- If you need to get tested, you can attend a free COVID-19 respiratory clinic near you. Early diagnosis means you can get the help you need and take steps to avoid spreading the virus to someone else. For more info about when and how you should get tested, see here.
- If you get tested for the virus, or you have symptoms, you need to stay at home. You will need to do this until you either have a negative test result or your symptoms have gone – whichever is longer.
I’ve been told to ‘self-isolate’ – what does that mean?
Of course, the most important reason to ‘self-isolate’ when you have symptoms of COVID0-19 is that staying home means you are staying away from other people, and it will therefore be much less likely that you will pass on the contagious virus – particularly to someone who might be more vulnerable to serious illness as a consequence than you might be.
There is another reason to stay home if you have symptoms of coronavirus or if you’ve had a positive test.
Since originally writing this article back in the middle of March, I’ve experienced coronavirus first hand via someone close to me. Even though their symptoms were relatively mild (fever, cough, flu-like symptoms, extreme exhaustion) and they have now made a full recovery, it most definitely wasn’t a pleasant experience and one I wouldn’t wish on anyone. However, I’m positive that by making this person rest, drink plenty of fluids, eat healthy food when they could manage it and stay in bed, their recovery was successful and quicker than it might have otherwise been.
And of course, they did not transmit the virus to anyone else.
Think back to a time before COVID-19. You’re at work and a colleague comes in who is obviously poorly. They are coughing and spluttering all over the place and, although you are concerned for them, you’re also thinking “why have you come in today?! I don’t want to catch whatever you have!” Well, that. Really, shouldn’t we always self-isolate when we are poorly?
There’s a reason we are told to stay home and rest when we are sick – our immune system kicks into gear to fight off the nasties for us. But our immune system works best when we look after it and give it the chance to do its job – that means staying healthy, eating well, getting plenty of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.
How to look after yourself at home, if you have coronavirus symptoms
Although there is currently no specific treatment for coronavirus patients to take at home, the NHS has released advice on how to ease the symptoms of coronavirus at home until you recover.
If you have a temperature: get lots of rest, drink plenty of fluids (water is best); take paracetamol or ibuprofen if you feel uncomfortable (if you’re unsure if you can take these, seek advice from your doctor).
If you have a cough: avoid lying on your back, lie on your side or sit upright instead. For those over 12 months, try having a teaspoon of honey.
If you feel breathless: keep your room cool – try turning down the heating or opening a window. Do not use a fan as it might spread the virus. Try breathing in slowly through your nose and out through your mouth, with lips together like you’re gently blowing out a candle. Sit upright in a chair, lean forward slightly and relax your shoulders. Try not to panic, as this can make breathlessness worse.
“Fever helps your body fight infections by stimulating your immune system: your body’s natural defence. By increasing your body’s temperature, a fever makes it harder for the bacteria and viruses that cause infections to survive.” – NHS Inform
Don’t forget to practise self-care and look after your mental health
Whether you have symptoms of Coronavirus or not, self-isolation (including working from home), along with the constant barrage of news and social media posts about the pandemic is likely to generate feelings of anxiety and stress.
There are some simple steps you can take to make sure you structure your time, which can help you feel more in control:
- DO keep up with your routine, as much as possible. Making a plan for how you will spend each day of your isolation, quarantine or lockdown can feel very empowering. Get up at the same time as normal, follow your usual morning routines, and go to bed at your usual time. If you’re well, but working from home, it’s equally important to keep up with your routine. It might be tempting to get up just in time for the start of your work day and spend the whole day in your pyjamas; but I can tell you as someone who has worked from home for the last three years, that novelty soon wears off and soon enough you just start to feel blue. You’ll be much more productive, and therefore feel more in control, if you get up at the same time that you would if you were going into the office, have a shower, put on some clothes (they don’t have to be what you’d usually wear to work, just make sure they are not your pyjamas!), eat your breakfast, make your coffee and then go and sit at your desk. And BAM! You’re in work mode – here’s to a great day ahead.
- DO stay connected. Get on the blower, mate! If you can, choose video calling over a phone call, as seeing someone else’s face can really make a huge difference when you’re feeling poorly, or lonely, or just a bit down. You don’t HAVE to talk about coronavirus on the call, in fact, you can ask the other person to talk about anything but! This will help you both remember that there are things happening in the world, and in your lives, other than the pandemic. Staying connected with friends and family is beneficial for them too.
- DO do something. Cooking, reading, painting, gardening, writing letters, learning a new language, writing that best-seller you’ve been meaning to get around to, having a sort out of your possessions, doing a house clean, writing in your journal, having a financial spring-clean, give yourself a manicure, learning something new, getting those odd-jobs done, having a digital clear out… keeping yourself and your mind busy will help you feel less anxious. Hobbies and tasks that require you to concentrate solely on one thing are a great way to practice mindfulness.
- DO meditate or take up yoga. There are THOUSANDS of guided meditations on YouTube, or on apps like Calm or Headspace. Practising meditation helps train your mind to not be absorbed by thoughts, to understand that you are not your thoughts. Our monkey minds and lizard brains just love to focus on the drama; meditation can help you let those thoughts go, to find peace within yourself, which in turn will help ease anxiety. YouTube is also a mecca for at-home yoga practises. Yoga focuses on breathing with movement. Aside from being a practise you have to concentrate on fully (see above), learning yogic breathing is a great way of easing anxiety. Yoga breathing ‘tricks’ the body out of fight, flight or freeze response, so you feel calmer.
- DO stop scrolling. I get it, I do it too. It’s addictive to constantly open those social media and news apps on your phone and scroll through clickbait headline after clickbait headline. There have been more than a BILLION mentions of COVID-19 in the media since it first made the news, and 6.7 million people mentioned it on social media in ONE DAY. Amongst all this, of course there is going to be fake news, conflicting information, scaremongering and conspiracy theories. Reading too much of this is going to make you feel panicked. Try to limit your scrolling and instead, decide you’re going to watch or listen to the news once or twice a day only.
- DO get outside. Depending on where you live in the world, you may not be possible to go out and about as normal, but this does not mean you cannot enjoy some fresh air – providing you keep a safe distance from people. Get out into your garden or balcony if you have one, or open your windows and breathe in the fresh air.
- DO exercise. Multiple studies have shown how important exercise is for our mental health. I’ve already talked about yoga, which is my preferred indoor exercise option. If that’s not your jam, there are tonnes of at-home exercise videos on YouTube. Even doing the housework is good to keep you active – perhaps add an extra lunge or two when you’re vacuuming! Lots of exercise apps are offering discounts right now – why not see if your wish-list exercise programs and apps are running any deals at the moment? What a great time to finally kick-start that home exercise program you’ve always been wanting to try!
- DO eat well. If you’re poorly, you might not feel like eating. But it is vital we give our bodies the right nutrients to feed our immune systems. Plenty of fresh fruit and veg if it’s available to you and if not, consider topping up with a daily multivitamin – these are easy to buy online.
How to be a responsible citizen in the age of coronavirus
Even if you don’t have symptoms of coronavirus, that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. Don’t forget that data has suggested that up to 80% of coronavirus cases could either be mild or asymptomatic. Every single one of us has a responsibility to look after each other. Together, we are stronger and together – and safer.
Here are some tips on looking after yourself and others during this time:
- DO follow government guidelines. Whatever your personal opinion of the pandemic (or indeed of the government), be a responsible citizen and follow guidelines issued by government health organisations.
- DO protect the elderly and vulnerable. The best way you can do this is to practise social distancing, washing your hands regularly and wearing a mask. Remember that wearing a mask (if you can) and practising social distancing is about protecting other people – in itself, that is an act of kindness and compassion. These measures also work best if we all do them. You can read more about how to make sure your mask is safe and sustainable here.
- DO ask for help. If you run out of supplies and you’re self-isolating, reach out to your friends, family, employer or local network to help you. Avoid the temptation to ‘nip out to the shops’ during your isolation period, even if you feel well again, as you are putting others at risk. If anyone does drop you off groceries or you order an online shop or takeaway, request that the goods are left on your doorstep for you to collect (many online services are offering this as a standard option now). Similarly, if you’re staying home because you are more vulnerable to the virus, ask for help – you might need assistance to pick up medications or to get your shopping, or perhaps it’s just a case of making sure you have people to talk to (virtually of course). Reach out to friends, family and neighbours – we’re all in this together, don’t be afraid to ask for help.
- DO keep washing your hands. Regularly for 20 seconds, each time using soap and water, or use hand sanitiser if no soap and water is available. Don’t forget to moisturise afterwards to avoid dry and chapped hands.
- DO practise good home hygiene. Your usual disinfectant will be effective at getting rid of the virus on surfaces. Soap and water also works – the soap removes the viral particles that have attached themselves to surfaces – whether it’s your hands, face or countertops – and suspends them in the water, so they can be washed away. Rubbing alcohol products that are at least 70 percent alcohol will kill the coronavirus with less potential for damage to your home, health or the environment than bleach. With all of these products, a good scrub is needed, not just a wipe. Clean frequently-touched surfaces such as door handles, handrails, remote controls and table tops. This is particularly important if you have an older or vulnerable person in the house.
- DO act like you’ve already got it. As Professor of Infectious Disease Modelling, Graham Medley succinctly put it “most people have a fear of acquiring the virus… a good way of doing it is imagine you do have the virus, and change your behaviour so you’re not transmitting it. Don’t think about changing your behaviour so you don’t get it, think about changing your behaviour so you don’t give it to somebody else”.
- DO check in on the vulnerable. Do you have an elderly relative or neighbour who might need some supplies delivered? Do you have a friend who is self-isolating and might need some help? If you are well and able. It’s not only helpful and kind, but it will give you a sense of purpose in a time of crisis, which is empowering and good for mental health. And call your parents. Regularly. They worry about you.
- DO be nice to frontline workers. This includes healthcare workers, nurses, doctors, paramedics, shelf-stackers, delivery drivers, checkout assistants, teachers, couriers. The people who keep the country running during a pandemic. Say thank you. Gift them some cookies. Be considerate – they are humans too, with families, and are just as at risk as the rest of us to COVID-19.
- DO donate to Food Banks. Food Banks are an essential community service and are anticipating a greater demand as more people are unable to work. More than 30% of the trust’s project managers are 65 or older, which makes them more vulnerable to coronavirus. If you are not in an at-risk group and have time on your hands, consider volunteering. If you can’t volunteer, you can still donate. Check with your local Food Bank to see what they are in need of, because it will vary from day to day.
And finally a reminder, if you have to stay home (self-isolate), this means you:
- DO NOT go to public places such as work, school, shopping centres, childcare or university;
- DO NOT go to the shops – ask someone to get food and other necessities for you and leave them at your front door; and
- DO NOT let visitors in — only people who usually live with you should be in your home.
It’s still unclear how long the current pandemic is going to impact our ordinary lives. But while it does, it doesn’t mean we have to feel like we’ve lost control, or rush out and panic-buy all the loo roll and pasta, or be mean or judgemental to each other.
Now is the time for kindness, community compassion, helping your neighbour and looking after each other. Who knows, we might all just learn some valuable lessons from this pandemic that we can carry forward into our post-coronavirus lives.