Anna Dunlop March 25, 2020

Since the coronavirus outbreak hit the UK, the situation has been constantly changing, and it's tough to keep up with all the advice, information and terminology. To help, we've put together a simple guide to help you understand self-isolation and social distancing and why they are so 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

Since March 23, 2020, the UK Government has introduced even stricter measures to curb the spread of the infection and has essentially put the UK on lockdown. These measures will last at least three weeks and will then be reviewed.

The Government’s current advice is that you should only leave your house for four reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities (food, medicine), which must be as infrequent as possible
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home
  • One form of exercise a day (running, cycling, walking the dog), alone or with members of your household
  • Any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person (this includes donating blood)

When undertaking the above activities, you should minimise the time spent outside your home and ensure you are two metres apart from anyone outside your household at all times. You should not visit friends in their home or meet family members who do not live in your home.

To make sure people are staying at home and apart from each other, the Government has also stopped all public gatherings of more than two people – unless it's a gathering of people who live together or for essential work purposes.

The Government is also closing non-essential shops and community spaces, which includes clothing and electronic stores and salons, libraries and community centres, leisure centres, playgrounds, churches and hotels. It has also stopped all social events including weddings and baptisms. Funerals can only be attended by immediate family.


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 7 days from when symptoms started.
  • If you live with others, the first person to have symptoms must stay at home for 7 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

For more information on staying well during COVID-19, visit our coronavirus advice hub.

This information was correct at the time and date of publication. Always follow the Government's guidelines on self-isolation and social distancing – see for more information and the latest updates.



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