FAQs: Living with Covid-19

How can we reduce the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19? (Updated 22nd July 2021)

This page is about living with Covid-19. For more information on the virus itself including symptoms, tests etc, see FAQs Covid-19 (the virus). For more on the vaccine, see FAQs Covid-19 (the vaccine).

Currently the UK is on a so-called 'roadmap' out of in a lockdown. Basic information on this follows. However, you should check the precise guidance for individual countries.

Many councils have useful local information on their websites. With Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland all following different paths, the UK government now effectively only speaks for England and, even in England, many councils see things differently. 

Can you make it simple?

That would be a great idea. What we see as the key messages are in the box below.

The laws around Covid-19 and our behaviour may change. But the basic facts around the virus don't change at all. There are no laws about crossing the road but most of us still look before we do it. It's a quick, easy precaution that massively reduces the risk. The same applies to Covid-19. 

  • get vaccinated
  • wear a mask - and social distance as far as possible.
  • avoid unnecessary travel
  • be air-aware - the highest risk is indoors. Risk increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with. Open windows, stay as far away from others as possible - even in another room. Talking can spread droplets far and wide.
  • wash your hands regularly and well and follow government hygiene guidance.

These quick, easy precautions will:

  • reduce your risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce your knob's risk from Covid-19 and long covid (yes, really!)
  • reduce your family and friends' risk of Covid-19 and long covid
  • reduce key workers' risk of Covid-19 and long covid.
  • reduce the risk of vaccine-resistant variants of Covid-19 developing

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

Is that it?

Pretty much, if you can actually do it but it's not always easy for all sorts of reasons.

Just remind me: what is Covid-19?

It is a type of coronavirus that was first detected in China at the end of 2019. Some of us now have some immunity to it having had the virus or been vaccinated against it. However, we don't really know how long any immunity lasts. New variants of the virus are emerging regularly.

Some coronoviruses are mild; some like SARS in 2002 are more serious. This is one of the more dangerous - worldwide well over four million people have officially died of Covid-19 and the real total is probably far more. The number of cases around the world is still rising in many places. Numbers of cases and deaths tend to fall when a 'lockdown' is introduced and rise again once it is lifted. The UK government is currently lifting the lockdown imposed at the start of 2021.

As well as the acute illness caused by virus, there is evidence of long-term health problems afterwards - so-called long covid. For more on the virus, see: FAQs Covid-19 (the virus). For more on Long Covid, see FAQs Long Covid.

Sounds very serious.

It is. The UK (population: 68 million) has more deaths from Covid-19 than any country in Europe - just ahead of Italy. Apart from Peru, the only countries in the world with more deaths are far larger countries: the USA (pop: 331 million), Brazil (213 million), India (1380 million) Mexico (128 million) and Russia (145 million). This means that when it comes to the death rate (deaths per head of population), the UK has one of the worst records in the world. After a reduction in summer 2020, cases of Covid-19 (and deaths) soared again in the so-called second wave in winter 2020-21. Deaths are rising less rapidly in this third wave but cases are soaring and while the link between caes and deaths has been reduced, it has not gone. Deaths will increase.

This island has never seen anything like this in peace-time and many other countries are going or have gone even further to reduce contact between people. This would not be happening if the threat posed by this new virus was not very high indeed. The objective is to avoid high risk individuals coming into contact with a potential killer. It's not about us as individuals. You may think you're fine but you could well pass it on.

Remember too that there is evidence that even if you have had the virus, you can still catch it again. (See: FAQs Covid-19 (the virus))

How do I avoid Covid-19?

The main thing is to avoid getting the water droplets carrying the virus onto your face. Larger droplets fall to ground or nearby surfaces but smaller ones can be blown around on the air for some time and over some distance.

All of the following are designed to stop this from happening:

  • Keep at least 2m away from others - if you're in a space where this might be difficult, consider a one metre distance plus a face covering (mask, bandana, burkha, whatever). More below.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap. Do this often, especially when you get home or to work. Only touch your face with clean hands.
  • Clean hands with alcohol-based sanitiser gel (60-80% alcohol preferably) if there’s no soap and water
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue (and bin it immediately). If there’s no alternative, use your sleeve (but remember viruses can live for days on clothing). Wash hands as soon as you can.
  • Avoid touching door handles, switches etc - use gloves, extend your sleeve or use your foot, hip, elbow or parts of your hand you’re unlikely to touch to your face (eg. your knuckle or closed fist)
  • The highest risk is indoors. This increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with so avoid crowds and long times spent in poorly-ventilated environments.
Tell me about the current guidelines.

You can find the guidance for your particular part of the UK at: gov.uk/coronavirus

The UK government does not have a great track record in opening up after lockdowns. Just as it tends to close too late, it tends to open too early. So make your own decisions about what is safe. The first question you should ask yourself is not am I allowed to do X, Y or Z but how much do you really need to do it and how safe can you make it. If you don't really need to do it and/or can't make it safe, perhaps don't do it. 

Following the reopening, England's rate of infection (called the R number) is now well over 1 (1.2 to 1.4). When the number is over 1 (meaning that one person with the virus infects more than one other), infection takes off and cases start increasing rapidly.

What are new variants of concern (VOC)?

Viruses mutate. There is evidence of new variants (or strains) of Covid-19 developing which appear to be easier to catch. At least one of these was first identified in the UK and may have been part of the explanation for the increase in cases in early 2021. Variants of concern would be variants that may be more deadly and/or resistant to one or more of the Covid-19 vaccines. The current VOCs are the Delta variant and the Beta variant. There will be others. Areas with high levels of VOCs may have special arrangements. You'll need to check local council websites to see if this applies to you.

In terms of seeing people, what can I do?

It is getting easier to see people but just because it is allowed does not mean it is advisable. Remember, a lot of people caught Covid-19 as result of perfectly legal gatherings at Christmas 2020. This is the offical guidance on what you can and can't do in England. You will need to check national and local websites as suggested. 

There's more on the UK government's line on social distancing here.

Is it safe to go back to work?

As things ease up, that's up to you but it makes sense to work at home if you can.

The government has issued guidance to employers about how to make workplaces safer. Employers should consult with their employees to determine how to work safely. If you're asked to go to work but you don't think it's safe to work, talk to your trade union if you can. There's also information on the TUC website including their answer to the question: Can I refuse to work because of coronavirus?

Stay at home if you're ill. (The 111 online Coronavirus service will tell you how to get an isolation note for work.) But best discuss things with your workplace. They should be developing policy on:

  • pay
  • what to do if you’re ill and 
  • implementing the government guidance at work

Those who work in businesses and workplaces which can open are being encouraged to go back to work and ideally to do that by walking or cycling rather than taking public transport. (For people who have no alternative but to use public transport, the government has published guidance.)

Is it safe to go on holiday or travel abroad?

Right now, probably not.

The UK is constantly updating its travel and quanrantine guidance. The Foreign Office website includes the latest advice. 

For European travel, there is a useful EU site on what is going on in EU countries called Reopen Europe.

Why 2m social distance?

Because it reduces the risk by about 90%. Read: Social distancing - 2m is twice as good as 1m. But there is no 2 metre rule - stay as far away as far as possble. Droplets can travel some distance and hang around in the air for some time especially indoors. Talking can spread droplets as much if not more than coughing.

What about wearing a mask?

In confined spaces where social distancing of 2m is difficult, wear a face-covering or mask. This obligatory in some public transport systems.  Check local rules. More on masks and how to make them

When wearing a mask, make sure you know how to use it. Some people say that wearing a mask prevents them from touching their face and reminds them not to do it. A scarf, balaclava, bandana or similar could do that job as well as a mask.

The highest risk is indoors. This increases with time and with the number of people you come in contact with. Don't hang about indoors. If you must spend time indoors with people outside your bubble or household, keep it as ventilated as possible. Open windows, doors, vents, fans etc.

What about the vaccine?

Yes, there are a number that are now becoming available. We have full FAQs on the vaccine here

What is self-isolation?

The aim of self-isolation is to keep you away from others so that if you do have it, you don’t pass it on. It involves staying at home as separate as possible from others. Ideally, stay in your room. Use the bathroom after everyone else in your household and then clean it. Don’t share towels, utensils etc. Get delivered items left outside. The NHS has useful advice for those staying at home and there's more on this site.

I'm a carer.

Carers UK have published some useful guidance.

How do I find out more about Covid-19?

You can check the following for more specific advice for your country:

For health information, check your country's NHS site.

Date published 09/03/20
Date of last review 22/07/21
Date of next review 15/08/21


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