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Illustration of social distancing coronavirus

Social distancing and self-isolation explained

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK, the situation has been constantly changing and it's hard to keep up with the advice. We've put together this  guide to help you understand self-isolation and social distancing and why they are important.

Social distancing

This is what EVERYONE in the UK should now be doing.

Social distancing is essentially taking steps to reduce your social interaction with other people. It will reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) and is particularly important for people who fall into the at-risk groups - the over 70s, pregnant women and those with underlying health conditions such as heart disease, respiratory disease and diabetes (for a full list see

Right now, everyone in the UK should be practising social distancing and staying at home as much as possible. Although rules are starting to be relaxed, you are still advised to: 

  • Stay 1+ metres away from other people.
  • Wear masks in supermarkets and shops, in indoor transport hubs and on public transport
  • Wash your hands with soap and water (or hand sanitiser if soap is not available) for at least 20 seconds when you get home.

Restrictions are starting to lift around the UK, but different rules apply in different areas.


  • People can now meet in groups of up to six individuals from different households outside – either in parks or private gardens – as long as they remain two metres apart.
  • People can socialise indoors with members of up to two households – this includes going to restaurants or pubs.
  • There is no limit on the amount of time people can spend outside.
  • There is no restriction on travel within England.
  • Sports facilities and venues, including indoor gyms, fitness and dance studios, indoor swimming pools and indoor water parks, can open.
  • New restrictions have now been reintroduced in parts on north England – see for detailed information.


  • Members of up to five different households can now meet in groups of up to 15 people outdoors, provided social distancing is maintained. (2m apart).
  • A maximum of eight people, from up to three different households can meet indoors.
  • Outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained – such as golf, tennis, bowls and fishing – are now allowed. People are also allowed to sit and sunbathe in parks and other outdoor areas.
  • There is no restriction on travel within Scotland.


  • People from two different households are currently able to meet outdoors, but must maintain social distancing.
  • There is no restriction on travel within Wales.

Northern Ireland

  • Up to 30 people can meet up outdoors while maintaining social distancing (1+ metres)
  • Up to six people can meet indoors, while maintaining social distancing.
  • There is no restriction on travel within Northern Ireland. 

You should cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the bin. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces in your home, wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitiser and avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.

Those with symptoms and those in contact with someone with symptoms should self-isolate and people who are high risk (see below) should be self-isolating for 12 weeks.


This is for people who experience COVID-19 symptoms, but don’t need hospital treatment, and also for those living in a household where someone is showing symptoms.

  • If you live alone and have symptoms of COVID-19, stay at home for 10 days from when symptoms started.
  • If you live with others, the first person to have symptoms must stay at home for 10 days, while all other household members must stay at home for 14 days from when the first person became ill – even if they have since got better.
  • If you can, move vulnerable people out of your home during the isolation period. If you can't move them out of your home, stay away from them as much as possible.

While you are self-isolating:

  • Do not go to school, work or public areas
  • Do not use public transport or taxis
  • Do not have visitors in your home
  • Do not go shopping for food or other essentials. Use online delivery or get a friend or neighbour to shop for you and drop groceries at your door to limit contact
  • Do continue to exercise if you are well enough, just stay at least two metres apart from other people

If you live with someone in the at-risk group you should also:

  • Minimise contact with them as much as possible within the home. Keep all rooms well ventilated
  • Remain two metres away from them at all times
  • Use a separate bathroom if possible. If this is not possible, allow them to use it first and clean it after you use it. Always use separate towels
  • Allow them to use the kitchen separately and take their meals back to their room to eat

Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see for more information and the latest updates.

Anna Dunlop is a content writer and editor at Healthspan.