What is the difference between isolation and quarantine?

2020-10-19

Both isolation and quarantine are methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19.

Quarantine is used for anyone who is a contact of someone infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19, whether the infected person has symptoms or not. Quarantine means that you remain separated from others because you have been exposed to the virus and you may be infected and can take place in a designated facility or at home. For COVID-19, this means staying in the facility or at home for 14 days.

Isolation is used for people with COVID-19 symptoms or who have tested positive for the virus. Being in isolation means being separated from other people, ideally in a medically facility where you can receive clinical care.  If isolation in a medical facility is not possible and you are not in a high risk group of developing severe disease, isolation can take place at home. If you have symptoms, you should remain in isolation for at least 10 days plus an additional 3 days without symptoms. If you are infected and do not develop symptoms, you should remain in isolation for 10 days from the time you test positive. 



If you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you may become infected, even if you feel well.

After exposure to someone who has COVID-19, do the following:

  • Call your health care provider or COVID-19 hotline to find out where and when to get a test.

  • Cooperate with contact-tracing procedures to stop the spread of the virus.

  • If testing is not available, stay home and away from others for 14 days.

  • While you are in quarantine, do not go to work, to school or to public places. Ask someone to bring you supplies.

  • Keep at least a 1-metre distance from others, even from your family members.

  • Wear a medical mask to protect others, including if/when you need to seek medical care.

  • Clean your hands frequently.

  • Stay in a separate room from other family members, and if not possible, wear a medical mask.

  • Keep the room well-ventilated.

  • If you share a room, place beds at least 1 metre apart.

  • Monitor yourself for any symptoms for 14 days. 

  • Stay positive by keeping in touch with loved ones by phone or online, and by exercising at home.

If you live in an area with malaria or dengue fever, seek medical help if you have a fever. While travelling to and from the health facility and during medical care, wear a mask, keep at least a 1-metre distance from other people and avoid touching surfaces with your hands. This applies to adults and children. Read our malaria and COVID-19 Q&A for more information. 


The time from exposure to COVID-19 to the moment when symptoms begin is, on average, 5-6 days and can range from 1-14 days. This is why people who have been exposed to the virus are advised to remain at home and stay away from others, for 14 days, in order to prevent the spread of the virus, especially where testing is not easily available.


Not yet. Many potential vaccines for COVID-19 are being studied, and several large clinical trials may report results later this year. If a vaccine is proven safe and effective, it must be approved by national regulators, manufactured, and distributed. WHO is working with partners around the world to help coordinate key steps in this process. WHO is working through the ACT-Accelerator to facilitate equitable access to a safe and effective vaccine for the billions of people who will need it, once it is available. More information about COVID-19 vaccine development is available here.


If you have any symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, call your health care provider or COVID-19 hotline for instructions and find out when and where to get a test, stay at home for 14 days away from others and monitor your health.

If you have shortness of breath or pain or pressure in the chest, seek medical attention at a health facility immediately. Call your health care provider or hotline in advance for direction to the right health facility.

If you live in an area with malaria or dengue fever, seek medical care if you have a fever.

If local guidance recommends visiting a medical centre for testing, assessment or isolation, wear a medical mask while travelling to and from the facility and during medical care. Also keep at least a 1-metre distance from other people and avoid touching surfaces with your hands.  This applies to adults and children.


Scientists around the world are working to find and develop treatments for COVID-19.

Optimal supportive care includes oxygen for severely ill patients and those who are at risk for severe disease and more advanced respiratory support such as ventilation for patients who are critically ill.

Dexamethasone is a corticosteroid that can help reduce the length of time on a ventilator and save lives of patients with severe and critical illness. Read our dexamethasone Q&A for more information.  

Results from the WHO’s Solidarity Trial indicated that remdesivir, hydroxychloroquine, lopinavir/ritonavir and interferon regimens appear to have little or no effect on 28-day mortality or the in-hospital course of COVID-19 among hospitalized patients.

Hydroxychloroquine has not been shown to offer any benefit for treatment of COVID-19. Read our hydroxychloroquine Q&A for more information.

WHO does not recommend self-medication with any medicines, including antibiotics, as a prevention or cure for COVID-19. WHO is coordinating efforts to develop treatments for COVID-19 and will continue to provide new information as it becomes available.


Antibiotics do not work against viruses; they only work on bacterial infections. COVID-19 is caused by a virus, so antibiotics do not work. Antibiotics should not be used as a means of prevention or treatment of COVID-19.

In hospitals, physicians will sometimes use antibiotics to prevent or treat secondary bacterial infections which can be a complication of COVID-19 in severely ill patients. They should only be used as directed by a physician to treat a bacterial infection.



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