EXPLAINED | Social distancing, self-isolation, quarantine & when they should be applied

23 March 2020 - 08:36 By Unathi Nkanjeni
SA has more than 270 cases of Covid-19.
SA has more than 270 cases of Covid-19.
Image: Nhac NGUYEN / AFP

As the number of coronavirus cases grows in SA, terms such as social distancing, self-isolation and quarantine remain confusing for some.

SA has 274 cases of Covid-19.

Here is what these terms mean, and when they should be applied.

Social Distancing 

This is for people who have not been exposed to the virus.

It means maintaining a greater than usual physical distance from others or avoiding direct contact with people or objects in public places to minimise exposure to and reduce transmission of the infection.


Isolating and distancing overlap, as both aim to keep people away from others as much as possible.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), self-isolating is done by those who think they have the virus or have tested positive. This applies if you have symptoms of the virus, such as a continuous cough and fever, and can look after yourself.


Quarantine is for people or groups who don’t have symptoms, but were exposed to the virus. Quarantine keeps them away from others so they don’t unknowingly infect anyone.

TimesLIVE reported that the state has the authority to institute quarantines and any resistance to quarantines has consequences that range from a fine to imprisonment.