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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 2 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. 

England, Scotland and Wales

  • The alert level in England, Scotland and Wales has moved from level 5, to level 4, but all countries are still in lockdown.
  • People must not leave their home except for specific purposes, which include work or volunteering (if this can't be done from home), shopping for essentials, such as food or medicine, for exercise (once a day), for education or childcare purposes or to avoid injury, illness or risk of harm (including domestic abuse). See for full details.
  • People can exercise or meet in a public, outdoors space, only with people they live with, their support bubble (or as part of a childcare bubble), or, if living alone, with one other person. People should only exercise once a day, and not leave their local area.
  • Schools, colleges and universities are closed, however, primary and secondary schools and colleges will stay open for vulnerable children and children of key workers.
  • Face coverings must be worn in taxis and private hire vehicles, as well as on public transport and in shops and supermarkets. 

Northern Ireland

  • The above rules apply, however in Northern Ireland, people can form a bubble with one other household and meet indoors or outdoors in private gardens. See for more details.

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.