Cocooning during COVID-19


This document gives practical guidance on cocooning for people over 70 or who may be medically vulnerable to COVID-19.

It includes information on what cocooning involves, advice on how to access food and medical supplies safely, and details of a range of social services to support to older and vulnerable people who are cocooning. You can also read information on:

What is cocooning?

Cocooning generally involves staying at home and reducing face-to-face interaction with other people to the greatest extent possible. It is intended to minimise your risk of contracting COVID-19.

If you are over 70 years or medically vulnerable to COVID-19, you are advised to use your judgement to decide how to apply the following public health guidance:

  • Stay at home as much as possible
  • You may welcome people to your home, but maintain physical distancing and use face coverings
  • For shopping, please use the times specially allocated by retailers
  • Use face coverings when in busy public areas

What exactly is cocooning?

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has published detailed guidelines on cocooning. If you need to cocoon, you should:

  1. Avoid contact with someone who is displaying symptoms of COVID-19. These symptoms include high temperature and/or new and continuous cough.
  2. Not leave your house except for specific purposes.
  3. Keep in touch using remote technology such as phone, internet, and social media.
  4. Use telephone or online services to contact your GP or other essential services.
  5. Keep phones and devices charged, and have credit on your phone so you can stay connected.

Who is advised to cocoon?

The Government has published a list of people who should cocoon to protect themselves from COVID-19. They include:

  • Everyone aged 70 years or over
  • Solid organ transplant recipients
  • People with specific cancers
  • People with severe respiratory conditions including cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe COPD
  • People with rare diseases and inborn errors of metabolism that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell)
  • People on immunosuppression therapies that might increase risk of infection
  • Women who are pregnant and have significant heart disease

If you are not sure whether you should be cocooning, you should phone your GP.

Everyone else should follow public health guidance on physical distancing.

Accessing food, medicine and cash while cocooning

Family, friends and neighbours can support you to get food and medical supplies. They must follow physical distancing guidelines. Where possible, you should use online shopping services.

If these options are not available to you, the government has put help in place through the local authorities, working with voluntary sector services, to make sure you have access to food, essential household supplies and medicines. You can read more in our document Community support during COVID-19.

The HSE support line can give you advice through its website and helpline.

Shops are providing dedicated hours for people who are cocooning. You can read more about how to shop safely during the COVID-19 emergency period. If you go shopping, you should:

  • Use shops that provide dedicated hours for people cocooning
  • Wear a face covering
  • Maintain 2 metres physical distancing
  • Wash your hands when you return home

New laws will be published in the coming days which will make it mandatory to wear a face covering in supermarkets, shops and shopping centres.

You should try to avoid using public transport. However, if you do need to use it, you should travel at non-peak times and only where you can maintain a safe physical distance of at least 2 metres from other passengers. It is the law to wear a face covering on public transport. You must wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.

The 5 retail banks (AIB, Bank of Ireland, KBC, Permanent tsb and Ulster Bank), all have a dedicated freephone helpline to help you if you are cocooning.

The BPFI guide on Cocooning during COVID-19 (pdf) gives advice on how you can manage your day-to-day banking safely while at home. It covers:

  • Using over the phone or online banking
  • Making payments over the phone using your debit or credit card
  • How you can contact each bank’s dedicated helplines – calls from cocooning customers are prioritised
  • Nominating a trusted person to help with your banking
  • Keeping your money safe

Can people come to my home?

In general, you should avoid group activities.

However, if you are cocooning and you decide to have visitors to your home, it is recommended that you stay outdoors as much as possible. You can visit friends and family, but in groups of less than 10 people, from up to 4 different households. You are also advised to limit meetings to family or friends who are aware of your circumstances and will follow protective measures when visiting.

Since 29 June, the following has been allowed in line with public health advice:

  • Indoor gatherings of up to 50 people
  • Outdoor gatherings of up to 200 people

People attending gatherings must follow social distancing and other public health measures. You can read information on Public health measures during COVID-19.

From 10 August, restrictions will ease to allow organised gatherings of up to 100 people indoors and 500 outdoors.

If you are visiting someone who is cocooning, you must be extra-vigilant. You should:

Visits from people who provide you with essential support such as healthcare, personal support with your daily needs or social care should continue as normal. However, your carers and care workers must stay away if they have any symptoms of COVID-19.

The Government also recommends that you put together a list of people who can help you with your care if your main carer becomes unwell.

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) can help you if you are having dificulties using video calling services like Zoom and Skype. You can call NALA on freephone 1800 2020 65, or text LEARN to 50050.

Can I go out for exercise or for a drive?

You can take exercise or go for a drive while cocooning, but you must be extra cautious.

If you choose to go outside for exercise you should:

  • Adhere strictly to 2 metres physical distancing measures
  • Avoid close face-to-face contact
  • Avoid touching people or surfaces
  • Wash your hands when you get home

If you choose to go for a drive, you should adhere to the following measures:

  • Don’t share the journey with anyone who is not cocooning with you
  • Adhere strictly to the 2 metres physical distancing measures when out
  • Wash your hands on returning home

You should avoid using public transport. However, if you do need to use it, you should travel at non-peak times and only where a safe physical distance of at least 2 metres from other passengers can be maintained. It is the law to wear a face covering on public transport. You must wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.

Can I go to places or events with other people?

In general, you should avoid group activities.

If social and cultural venues, such as the library service, can provide dedicated hours for people cocooning then it is reasonable to go there for short periods. If you are attending services such as restaurants, it is important that you risk assess the situation before going. You may also attend a funeral of a close relative or friend. However, in any such social setting it is important that you follow public health guidance. You should:

  • Maintain a safe physical distance of at least 2 meters from other people
  • Wear a face covering (where possible)
  • Avoid close face-to-face contact
  • Avoid touching people or surfaces
  • Wash your hands when you get home

You can read more about how to safely attend a funeral in our document on Death and bereavement during COVID-19.

If you are attending services where social distancing is difficult such as hair salons, you should:

  • Tell the service provider that you are cocooning when making an appointment
  • Limit your number of visits to these places
  • Keep appointments as short as possible
  • Ask for a time and day when the business has as few other customers as possible
  • Make sure the business follows public health guidance around hygiene and understands your needs
  • Wear a face covering (where possible)
  • Wash your hands when you get back home

Can I visit my GP or go a hospital appointment?

You should contact your GP by phone. If you have a scheduled hospital or other medical appointment during this period, talk to your GP or specialist for advice on whether you should attend.

It is possible that your hospital may need to cancel or postpone some clinics and appointments. You should contact your hospital or clinic to confirm appointments. If you fall seriously ill, you should go to hospital.

If you need to attend essential services (for example, healthcare appointments) and you can’t get there without taking a taxi, the following measures can be taken to minimise your risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19:

  • Indicate to the driver in advance that you are cocooning
  • Maintain strict hand hygiene
  • The use of face coverings for both passenger and driver, where possible
  • Keeping as much distance as is practical

What you should do if you have someone else living with you

People living with you should support you in cocooning and follow guidance on physical distancing and handwashing and respiratory hygiene.

If you are living with other people you should:

  • Stay away from other people in your home most of the time in a well-ventilated room with a window that you can open.
  • Try to keep at least 1 metre (3 ft) and where possible 2 metres between you and other people.
  • Clean your hands regularly and cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough or sneeze.
  • Use a toilet and bathroom that no one else in the house uses, if possible. If you are sharing a bathroom, make sure that it is kept clean.
  • Do not share towels (bathing, showering and hand towels) with other people in your house.
  • Avoid using the kitchen with others. If you can, take your meals back to your room to eat. If you have one, use a dishwasher to do the washing up. If this is not possible, wash your dishes using washing-up liquid and warm water and dry them thoroughly. Do not share cutlery and utensils. When using your own utensils, remember to use a separate tea towel for drying these
  • Clean all surfaces, such as counters, table-tops, doorknobs, bathroom fixtures, toilets and toilet handles, phones, keyboards, tablets, and bedside tables, every day with a cleaning product.
  • When cleaning you should use your usual household products like detergents and bleach as these are very effective at getting rid of the virus. Follow the instructions on the manufacturer’s label and check they can be used on the surface you are cleaning.

Looking after your mental health

It is important to look after your mental health while you are cocooning. Use the telephone and internet to stay in touch with friends, family and neighbours.

You should move around as much as possible within your house (and garden if possible). Spend time with the windows open and try to find a space to sit and get some natural sunlight. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, drink enough water, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs.

Siel Bleu provides exercise programmes to older adults and adults living with chronic disease. It has published free online indoor exercise videos. The HSE has also published details of two chair based exercises that you can do at home.

The HSE has issued useful and practical information and advice on how to maintain positive mental health, as well as general guidance on looking after your mental health in old age.

If you need to talk to someone, contact Samaritans for free any time, day or night on 116123.

You can read more about mental health services that are available.

Community support helplines

Local authorities have established community support helplines that you can call if you need assistance while you are cocooning or self-isolating. You can read more in our document Community support during COVID-19.

Page edited: 20 July 2020