Social Distancing vs. Self-Isolation vs. Quarantine – What’s the difference?


Social distancing has become a mantra of safety these days. COVID-19 pandemic caused by Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is making the world sick. And at such a time, people are being advised to stay away from each other. Country after country is going into partial or total lockdown. Even a populous country like India is under total lockdown, shutting its 1.3 billion people within their homes. Even in areas that are not under lockdown, authorities are taking various measures of social separation.

Words like Social Distancing, Self-Isolation, Self-Quarantine, Lockdown are the buzzwords of these trying times. But what do they mean? What’s the difference between Social Distancing, Self-Isolation, Self-Quarantine, and Lockdown? Let us explain.

Difference between Social Distancing, Self-Isolation, Self-Quarantine, Lockdown

Social Distancing:

Social distancing means “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance (approximately 6 feet or 2 meters) from others when possible.” Simply speaking, it means — reduce contact with other people.

  • Stay away from the crowd. Stay away from crowded places like malls, movie theatres, markets, religious places, restaurants, gyms, swimming pools, etc. Avoid stepping out of your home unless it is unavoidable. Don’t organize or take part in any activities that involve mass gathering.
  • Social distancing does not limit you from going out of your home to buy essential supplies or other important work. But when you go out, maintain a minimum 1-meter distance from others (2 meters is recommended, wherever possible).
  • The elderly or immunocompromised people must be stricter in maintaining this social distancing. People who already have poor health and weak immunity can get more severely affected by Coronavirus.

Isolation or Self-Isolation:

While social distancing is for the people who don’t yet have COVID-19, Isolation is for those who have become infected. People who have COVID-19 are advised to isolate themselves to prevent the infection from spreading to others. It is a way of limiting the patients’ contact with those living around them.

Quarantine or Self-Quarantine:

Quarantine is to limit the movements of those people who have been exposed to COVID-19 but are not yet sick. Authorities send people into quarantine to monitor their health and see if they develop COVID-19. Some at-risk people are put in quarantine centers. Others may be advised to self-quarantine themselves at home.

Isolation and Quarantine follow almost similar procedures to distance the general public from people who have or might have COVID-19 infection. The purpose of both these procedures is the same — break the chain of the infection.

When should you isolate yourself?

As per NHS, If you have symptoms of COVID-19, you need to self-isolate yourself for 7 days. After 7 days, if you do not have a high temperature, you do not need to self-isolate. If you have a high temperature, stay isolated until your temperature returns to normal. No need to self-isolate if you only have a cough after 7 days.

If you live with someone who has COVID-19 symptoms, you need to isolate yourself for 14 days from the day their symptoms started. If more than one person in your family has the symptoms, isolate yourself for 14 days from the day the first person showed symptoms. And if you start showing symptoms too, self-isolate yourself for 7 more days from the day your symptoms appear.

Precautions in self-isolation:

People under self-isolation or self-quarantine must be very careful about their health and surrounding. If you are isolating yourself, observe the following precautions:

  • Monitor your symptoms and communicate any change you notice in your health to your doctor.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated.
  • Do some light exercise every day if you feel well enough.
  • People observing self-isolation or self-quarantine can go out to exercise. But stay at least 3 steps away from other people. Avoid public parks. Walk and exercise in your garden, patio, backyard, etc.
  • Do not visit anybody and say no to visitors.
  • Do not go out to buy food or medicine. Ask someone to get such things for you and leave them at your doorstep.
  • Stay in one room and do not share your bed with anyone.
  • Maintain a distance from all family members as much as possible.
  • COVID-19 patients should wear masks when they are around other people.
  • Ensure good personal hygiene and practice rigorous hand washing, or frequent use of hand sanitizer.
  • Do not share your personal items with family members. Things like towels, bedsheets, etc. should be kept separate.
  • The household surfaces like table tops, door handles should be cleaned thoroughly and regularly.
  • If you have symptoms and someone in your family is of the vulnerable group (Elderly, pregnant, long-term health condition, immunocompromised)arrange for them to stay with family or friends for 14 days. If they must stay with you, try to keep away from each other as much as possible.
  • Clean a shared bathroom every time you use it. Wipe clean the surfaces you have touched.
  • Educate your children about the need to stay away from you in age-appropriate language.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health while in isolation or quarantine. Stay in touch with family and friends over the phone. Stay positive.


In a lockdown, people of an entire region are ordered to stay at home. At such a time, you can go out for essential supplies and other emergencies. But you must not step out of home for non-essential tasks. Doing this may even be a punishable offense.

  • When you do step out in a lockdown, make sure you can prove it is for an essential purpose.
  • Maintain social distancing when you are outside your home.
  • Lockdown can extend for many days. At such a time, you must keep yourself busy and engaged within your home for managing your physical and emotional health. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly within your home or garden, and stay positive.


Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine, lockdown are all measures important to contain the spread of Coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. Observe them carefully, taking all precautions to ensure that you and those around you stay safe from Coronavirus. When you must stay confined within your home, don’t panic or get anxious. Keep yourself engaged, eat a good diet, and stay connected with your family, friends, and doctor.