How can I protect myself and others from coronavirus?
The main ways to protect yourself and others from coronavirus are practising good hand hygiene, social distancing, and self-isolating when you or someone in your household has symptoms.
Contact Test and Trace
If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you must self isolate and contact 119 or apply online for a coronavirus test. If you test positive, you will be contacted by the government's test and trace program.
When you are contacted, you'll be asked to sign in to the NHS Test and Trace website.
Here, you'll be asked for the following information:
- your name, date of birth and postcode
- if you live with other people
- the names of the places you've been recently, such as a workplace or school
- names and contact details of any people you were in close contact with 48 hours before your symptoms started (if you know these details)
If you cannot use the contact tracing website, you'll be asked for this information over the phone.
This information will help protect the people around as they will be contacted and asked to self-isolate.
Wash your hands regularly especially after you’ve been out, after you sneeze, cough or blow your nose, and before you eat or prepare food. Use soap and warm water, and wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Use hand sanitiser if you do not have access to soap and water, and then wash your hands properly as soon as you can.
Cover your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away afterwards, and then wash your hands or use hand sanitiser.
Avoid touching your face, especially your nose, eyes and mouth.
Avoid physical contact with others as much as possible, for example shaking hands or kissing.
Clean and disinfect household objects that get touched regularly, for example:
- door or cupboard handles
- keyboards and computer equipment
- phones and tablet screens
- remote controls
- toilet flush handles
If you're concerned you may have coronavirus, you can learn how to get tested here.
Social distancing means avoiding coming into contact with other people to prevent spreading coronavirus.
The virus passes most easily between people who are closer than 2m (6ft). Wherever possible you should avoid leaving your home. If you do go out, you should try to stay 2m (6ft) away from all other people.
Social distancing means you should:
- avoid using public transport unless you absolutely have to
- work from home if you can
- avoid any social gatherings
- do not meet up with any friends or family that you do not already live with
- use remote healthcare services where possible, for example phone your GP or NHS 111, use 111 online and use online doctor services like Zava to get medication, prescriptions and advice
- get food delivered where possible
Social distancing is important for all of us, but it’s especially important if you or someone you live with is in a ‘risk group’. See the government's list of groups at risk of COVID-19.
You should self-isolate if:
- you have or someone you recently came in contact with has symptoms of coronavirus (a new continuous cough, high temperature or difficulty breathing)
- a member of your family or someone you live with has symptoms
- you have recently travelled to countries with a high rate of COVID-19 infection cases
Should I wear a face mask?
People in the UK are currently being advised to wear face masks when doing things such as taking public transport or when going shopping.
The WHO still recommends that you only need to wear a mask if you’re caring for someone who has coronavirus symptoms.
How do I protect myself if a family member or housemate has symptoms of coronavirus?
If you or a family or household member get symptoms of coronavirus you all need to self-isolate (stay at home completely).
While your household is isolating it’s best to:
- wash your hands often
- cover your face with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- clean bathrooms regularly
- clean all surfaces regularly
- do not share food, drinks, plates, and knives and forks
- do not share towels, including hand towels and tea towels
- do not share clothes or blankets
- sleep alone where possible
Is there a vaccine for coronavirus (COVID-19)?
There’s currently no vaccine for coronavirus. Research is being done to develop a vaccine but it will still need to go through human testing and then mass production so is unlikely to be available until the end of 2021.
Will the flu or pneumonia vaccine protect me from coronavirus?
Pneumonia and flu vaccines will not provide any protection against coronavirus, but it's still a good idea to get vaccinated against these infections at the appropriate time of year.
Can I take medication to help prevent catching coronavirus?
There’s no medication you can take to help prevent catching coronavirus, but you can take some over the counter medication to help relieve the symptoms.
How do I protect myself on public transport?
If you travel by bus, train or tram:
- try to sit away from other passengers
- use hand sanitiser after touching poles, buttons or seats
- travel at off-peak times – essential workers like healthcare workers will still be travelling at peak times, so avoid travelling during normal commuting hours
If you travel by taxi:
- sit behind the driver and not next to them
- remember that others will have used the seat belts in the taxi so use hand sanitiser after getting in and avoid touching your face
When you get home after travelling, change your clothes and wash the outfit you travelled in.
How do I go shopping safely?
- Write a shopping list and plan your route through the shop to avoid walking around more than you need to
- Shop alone if possible
- Check online for shopping hours dedicated to healthcare workers and vulnerable groups
- Follow guidelines from shop staff about queuing
- Stay 2m (6ft) away from other shoppers and shop staff where possible
- Wash packaging with disinfectant, or remove it and throw it away, when you get home – it’s believed that coronavirus can exist on plastic for up to 72 hours
- When you get home, change your clothes and wash the outfit you went shopping in
How do I protect myself at work?
If you cannot work from home, you and your co-workers should follow social distancing and good hygiene practice. Ideally, employers should also:
- make it possible for you to follow social distancing guidelines
- when social distancing is not possible, employers should take extra precautions outlined by the government
- make sure the workplace is regularly cleaned to a high standard
- provide you and your co-workers with the right tools for personal protection
- keep people working together on the same shift patterns to avoid infection spreading between teams or stagger shifts to avoid contact
- allow anyone with symptoms of coronavirus to stay at home for as long as necessary
- monitor stress and help you and your coworkers get support for coronavirus and mental health related issues
- provide support for anyone who is worried about the impact of coronavirus on their livelihood
Your employer can still:
- ask for medical evidence if you need to stay at home. Employers are being asked to use their discretion when it comes to asking for evidence to help reduce GPs’ workloads, but they can still insist you provide it. You can go online to get an isolation note, or call 111
- ask you to take holiday or unpaid leave if you’re staying at home without an isolation note
- start disciplinary action if you stay at home without a valid reason
If your employer is not following coronavirus guidelines, not allowing sick leave, not protecting you and your co-workers, or demanding extra hours for an unrealistic workload, contact your local UNISON branch or your Citizens Advice.
See the gov.uk website for advice on the following:
- Statutory sick pay
- Claiming benefits
- Being on furlough
Can the virus be transferred through sex?
There's no evidence that bodily fluids like sperm and vaginal secretion can pass on coronavirus.
The official guidance issued by the NHS and other health bodies tells us to avoid contact with those who have been infected.
Epidemiologists (who study patterns in diseases) are encouraging people to limit or avoid physical contact while the ways that coronavirus is spread are identified.
So having sex with someone who has coronavirus – or who is under quarantine – is certainly not advised.
Can I get the virus from my pets?
There are reports of a very small number of animals having been infected by humans (notably a tiger at a zoo in the USA, a cat in Belgium and a couple of dogs in Hong Kong). Coronavirus seems to be passed on to cats more easily than dogs in laboratory experiments that have taken place. Still, there’s no evidence that the virus can be passed back to humans as they do not secrete enough of the virus to be able to pass it to us. So the current advice is that we are safe to interact with our pets as usual.
Dr Babak Ashrafi Clinical Lead for Service Expansion
Babak studied medicine at King’s College London and graduated in 2003, having also gained a bachelor’s degree in Physiology during his time there. He completed his general practice (GP) training in East London, where he worked for a number of years as a partner at a large inner-city GP practice. He completed the Royal College of GPs membership exam in 2007.Meet our doctors
Last reviewed: 16 Apr 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): advice for employers and employees (2020) Acas [accessed 10 April 2020]
Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) (2019) CDC [accessed 10 April 2020]
Guidance for employers and businesses on coronavirus (COVID-19) (2020) DBEIS and PHE [accessed 10 April 2020]
Guidance on social distancing for everyone in the UK (2020) PHE [accessed 10 April 2020]
Self-isolation if you or someone you live with has symptoms (2020) NHS [accessed 10 April 2020]