All The Coronavirus Jargon Explained, From Self-Isolation To Social Distancing

by Alice Broster
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No matter how cool-headed you are, the COVID-19 outbreak is scary. With the NHS and government releasing new information all the time, it can be difficult to make decisions about the best course of action to take, especially when there’s so much jargon flying around. So here's what terms like self-isolation and social distancing really mean in relation to the COVID-19 outbreak.


You may have heard your flatmate joke that they’re going into self-isolation, as they work from home but this isn’t what it means. According to Public Health England, you should self-isolate if you’re exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 (fever and dry cough), suffering from other illnesses like cold or flu, or if you’ve been tested and are waiting on the results.

This means not going to work, school, or out and about. If you’re self-isolating then you should be in a well-ventilated space but stay away from anyone you live with and keep the door closed. If you live in a shared house then self-isolation may seem impossible, but if you do have to come out into shared areas then you should wash your hands thoroughly and wear a mask.

Social Distancing

According to government advice, coronavirus can be spread when people with the virus have close contact with those who are not infected. You could be infected if you speak to someone who is carrying it for as little as 15 minutes. By reducing the amount of time you’re spending in public spaces, and the amount of non-essential public transport you take, the less likely you are to catch and spread coronavirus. It's for this reason that several major events around the UK have been cancelled over the last week.

This isn’t about staying in a room and not speaking to anyone, but be mindful of people who are more at risk like older people and people with pre-existing health conditions.


The Cambridge dictionary defines quarantine as “a period of time during which an animal or person that might have a disease is kept away from other people or animals so that the disease cannot spread.” Over the last couple of weeks countries have taken the measure to ban travel. People who’ve traveled back from the worst affected places like Italy have had to go into quarantine or self-isolation at home for two weeks. Similarly, the NHS has advised that anyone who thinks they’re exhibiting symptoms should self-isolate at home for seven days.

Herd Immunity

Some scientific advisors are telling the press and government that a high proportion of the UK population will and should get COVID-19. The most high profile example is the government's chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, who told Sky News that 60 percent of the UK needs to get the illness in order to have herd immunity.

The Oxford Vaccine Group describe herd immunity as “when a high percentage of the population is vaccinated, it’s difficult for infectious diseases to spread, because there are not many people who can be infected.” While there’s no vaccine for COVID-19 at the moment, if enough people who are low risk contract the illness and then recover they may have immunity for a certain length of time. This means it's less likely to spread during the time that immunity lasts.


The COVID-19 outbreak has been described in a number of ways. You’d be forgiven for being confused about whether it’s an epidemic or a pandemic, considering they aren’t terms you usually throw around in everyday conversation. According to the World Health Organisation a pandemic is the global outbreak of a disease. Coronavirus was first described as an epidemic as that’s the rapid spread of a disease across a particular region or regions. However, it’s was classified as a pandemic on March 11 after spreading to every continent bar Antartica.

Read more here:

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If you think you’re showing symptoms of coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, and coughing, call NHS 111 in the UK or visit the CDC website in the U.S. for up-to-date information and resources. You can find all Bustle’s coverage of coronavirus here, and UK-specific updates on coronavirus here.

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