Over the last couple of years, you’ll likely have learned a lot about the transmission of disease. Whether it’s understanding the “R” rate or why it’s so important to wash your hands while singing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice, you will almost certainly know more about public health now than you did before.
With life largely returning to normal, there are several health habits you picked up during Covid-19 that it’s worth hanging onto. Applying some of what you learned during the pandemic can help to keep you and others well this winter – so here are seven habits you learned from Covid that it’s important to maintain.
Wash your hands
From the very start of the pandemic, you were urged to wash your hands regularly.
The Guardian reports that, before the pandemic, only around 1 in 4 people globally washed their hands with soap after a trip to the toilet. This rose to 1 in 2 in areas with good access to hand-washing facilities.
Hand hygiene is the cornerstone of infection prevention and an easy way to reduce the transmission of viruses and bacteria.
So, don’t forget what you learned over the last couple of years. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds – sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice – or with hand sanitiser if you can’t get to a tap.
Holly Seale, an expert in perceptions and behaviours regarding infectious diseases from the University of New South Wales, says that hand hygiene can also help you to protect others.
She says that ensuring your hands are clean before heading to the shops or riding in a lift is “certainly about protecting other people as well”.
Stay home when sick
During the early months of the pandemic, if you tested positive for Covid-19 then you were required to stay at home and self-isolate.
Indeed, in September 2020, the UK government introduced legislation that required people to self-isolate if they tested positive or were contacted by NHS Test and Trace. Individuals could be fined for a breach.
One of the biggest lessons of Covid-19 has been the importance of unwell people staying away from work and social events. And, there is a greater understanding now of the importance of you staying out of your workplace and at home if you contract any transmissible disease – not just Covid.
So, this winter, take community health more seriously by recognising your personal responsibility to isolate yourself if you’re unwell and not to pass your illness to others. Take a sick day if you need to, or work from home to avoid passing on germs or a virus to your colleagues or friends.
According to official figures, more than three-quarters of the UK population have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.
Vaccinations are a great way to protect yourself from the worst effects of certain diseases. So, if you’re offered a Covid-19 booster or a flu vaccine, make sure you take up the opportunity.
Flu vaccination is particularly important because it can be dangerous and even life-threatening for some people, particularly those with certain health conditions.
The flu vaccine is given free on the NHS to adults who:
- Are 65 and over
- Have certain health conditions
- Are pregnant
- Are in long-stay residential care
- Receive a carer's allowance, or are the main carer for an older or disabled person who may be at risk if you get sick
- Live with someone who is more likely to get a severe infection due to a weakened immune system, such as someone living with HIV, someone who has had a transplant, or is having certain treatments for cancer, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis.
The NHS also say that, starting from mid-October, people aged 50 years old or over (including those who will be 50 years old by 31 March 2023) can have a free NHS flu vaccine.
Ventilate your home and workplace
One of the reasons that you were encouraged to socialise outside during the pandemic – remember the “groups of six” rule? – is that transmission is more likely in an indoor, poorly-ventilated environment.
Natural ventilation, such as opening a window, can help with airflow, particularly at home or in a workplace.
Bringing fresh air into a room by opening a door or a window even for a few minutes at a time helps remove older stale air that could contain virus particles and reduces the chance of spreading infections.
Go for a walk
During the lockdowns, the limit to your exercise was an hour’s walk every day. So, if you’ve got out of the habit of going for a walk, it could be time to start again.
While a walk may have been an escape from lockdown, you may have benefited in other ways, from the exercise to the mental health boost it can provide.
Heading out for a walk can relieve tension and stress as well as being good for your physical health. Connecting with nature can improve your mood and, if you’re fitter and less worried, it will likely have a positive effect on your wellbeing also.
Wear a mask
As you will have discovered during the pandemic, mask wearing is incredibly helpful in stopping the spread of all kinds of respiratory illnesses. Indeed, it’s something that people in many Asian countries have known for years but only became widely acknowledged in the UK during Covid-19.
Scientific American says that wearing masks “probably played a significant role” in keeping flu cases to record lows in the US in 2021.
If you can wear a mask – particularly on public transport or in crowded locations – then you are likely to reduce the transmission of disease and help to keep yourself safer.
Maintain social distancing
So, you’ve read about the “hands and face”, and so the other key message from lockdown was “space”.
Through the pandemic, you were urged to remain two metres apart from other people, as the risk of transmission is small when you leave distance between you.
Remembering to “social distance” could be a good way to avoid becoming ill this winter. If it is not possible to keep two metres distance, reduce the risk to yourself and others at by taking suitable precautions such as:
- Limit the number of households you come into contact with
- Meet people outdoors
- Wear a face covering (see above)
- Sit or stand side by side or behind people, rather than facing them.
If you can keep your distance from others this winter, you’re less likely to come into contact with germs or viruses.
Protect yourself and your family
While we can’t keep you flu or Covid-free this winter, we can help you to benefit from the peace of mind that you and your family are protected in case the worst happens.
Putting the right cover in place means you and your loved ones will receive financial support if you pass away, are diagnosed with a serious illness, or if you have to take an extended period off work due to illness or injury.
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