Cocooning during COVID-19


This document gives practical guidance on cocooning for people over 70 or who are at very high risk from 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 supporting older and vulnerable people who are cocooning. You can also read information on:

You can read about the Government’s Plan for Living with COVID-19, which sets out the measures that will be used over the next 6 months. The plan has 5 levels that correspond to the severity of COVID-19 in a location.

At levels 2 to 5, if you are over 70 years or at very high risk from COVID-19, you should:

  • Avoid public transport
  • Shop during designated hours
  • Keep your social contacts to a very small social group, for short periods of time and keep your physical distance

What is cocooning?

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

If you are over 70 years or at very high risk from COVID-19, you should:

  • Stay at home as much as possible
  • Avoid contact with someone showing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Keep your physical distance and use face coverings when you have visitors
  • Use the times specially allocated by retailers for shopping
  • Avoid gatherings where you can't keep 2 metres apart from other people
  • Use face coverings when in busy public areas
  • Try to avoid using public transport

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has published detailed guidelines on cocooning.

Who is advised to cocoon?

The HSE 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 who are having specific treatment for cancer
  • 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
  • People on dialysis

You can read more about who should cocoon on the HSE website.

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 Services 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

You must wear a face covering in shops, shopping centres and other retail settings.

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. You must 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?

You should not have visitors to your home or garden, except for essential reasons such as someone who is caring for you or checking in to see if you are okay.

People attending gatherings must follow social distancing and other public health measures.

You should not attend social gatherings if you live in a county that is on level 4. You can read more about level 4 restrictions.

If you are visiting someone who is cocooning, you should be extra careful and only visit for essential reasons. 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 difficulties 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 should be extra cautious.

If you go outside for exercise, you should:

  • Choose a quiet time
  • Stay 2 metres away from other people
  • Avoid close face-to-face contact
  • Avoid touching people or surfaces
  • Wash your hands when you get home

If you go for a drive, you should:

  • Avoid sharing the journey with anyone who is not cocooning with you or in your ‘social bubble’ of family or friends
  • Stay 2 metres away from other people when out
  • Wash your hands when you get home

Can I travel?

You should not travel outside your county, unless it is for work, education or other essential reasons, such as hospital appointments.

If you are cocooning, you should stay at home as much as possible and avoid physical contact with other people.

You can read more about travel and COVID-19.

Can I go to places or events with other people?

In general, you should avoid group activities. If you do meet other people, the number you can meet depends on the level your county is on in the 'Plan for Living with COVID-19'.

If you live in a county on level 4, you should not meet other people socially.

If you are going to places or events with other people (such as restaurants), it is important that you check the risk before going. In all social settings you should:

  • Stay 2 metres away 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 going somewhere 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 to 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:

  • Tell 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.

You can interact normally with any members of your household that are also cocooning.

If they are not cocooning, they can help you stay well by:

  • Following the advice on social distancing and hand hygiene at home
  • Spending as little time as possible in shared rooms, for example, the kitchen and sitting areas
  • Opening windows to let fresh air into shared spaces
  • Using separate towels, including hand towels and tea towels
  • Cleaning cutlery, dishes and pans thoroughly
  • Cleaning a shared bathroom each time they use it, for example, by wiping the surfaces
  • Cleaning objects and surfaces they touch often (such as door handles, kettles and phones) using your usual cleaning products

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 in 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 Services during COVID-19.

Page edited: 16 October 2020